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The allure of libraries, magic and rare books

My hometown’s Carnegie Public Library saved my young life. Mid-century Escanaba, Michigan was pretty — yes — but also remote, and inhospitable to a shy kid like me. I wasn’t into hunting, fishing or sports. During my grade school years, I probably spent way too many recess periods inside, alone with a book. I couldn’t help it.

I wanted to learn stuff.

As soon as I’d exhausted the Children’s section of the library (and, I suspect, exhausted the children’s librarian, Miss Jensen), I was kicked upstairs to the adult books and media. I spent most of my time in the non-fiction section, settling into Dewey Decimal System’s home for conjuring and its history: 791.

I became one of those boys. I fell in love with doing magic tricks for friends and classmates, and soon graduated to performing shows for strangers. My first was for the Saturday morning story hour, back in the basement of — Where else? — the Carnegie Library. Thank you Miss Jensen!

I was reminded of all this when I saw this post from Chicago’s preeminent reference library:

Burnt pages of the anti-witch-burning book “Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft” gave us quite the #pagefright. This copy from 1651 may have been consigned to the flames, but it survived to call out the “lewde unchristian practices of witchmongers” while labeling witches “imaginary, erronious conceptions.” [Case B 88 .7991] #witches #witchcraft #imaginary #bookguts #librariesofinstagram

A post shared by Newberry Library (@newberrylibrary) on

I recall crouching in the stacks of Carnegie Library, reading excepts of Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. It was written to discourage the persecution of suspected witches by revealing how easy it was to simulate their miracles. It was far from a how-to, yet it earned the title of The World’s First Magic Book.

Here’s one example from its pages. This shows how you could display an apparently beheaded man and hold a conversation with his head while it rests nearby on a platter:

Those who know me well are aware I took to magic in a big way. It taught me some wonderful lessons: Confidence in front of strangers, how to tell a story, and even how to invent my own illusions.

I love the fact that I live within a few miles of a library housing one of the remaining copies of this treasured book. And I am especially grateful that everything else I learned in my “discoveries” in libraries has made me the person I am today.

Recent tour inspires Chicago makers and leads to tips for potential Accenture new hires

Note: This blog post originally appeared in an Accenture Careers blog.

A social media profile for me says I’m a “Digital Analytics Leader at Accenture.” More specifically, I’m in our Personalization and Customer Analytics practice. That means I help clients use customer information to provide them with better digital experiences.

It’s literally a dream job.

Once, when I was a kid in a small-town library in an American backwater (the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), long before the internet, I read a biography of someone who made his career back in the 1950s. It was just as television was becoming a transformative technology. You’d think I would have been inspired, but I was devastated. I thought, ‘It’s all in the past! I’ll never live through another period where I can get in on ‘the ground floor’ of an emerging technology.” (To be clear, as a 10-year-old boy, I didn’t think in exactly those words, but you get the idea.)

How naïve of me. Now we have this innovation wave under our feet that is ascending at an accelerating pace. It began late in the last century, with the digitization of everything. I’m riding it now, and loving it, but it is nowhere near cresting.

As I discovered on my recent visit to Chicago’s mHUB, an innovation center for product development and manufacturing, it will be rising for quite a while. And everything will be changed in its path. In other words, the best is yet to be, and Accenture is going to be a major player in how this future unfolds. Perhaps you’ll want to join us.

My mHUB Adventure

My profile continues that I’m an “avid reader, a film nut and a music omnivore.” And it’s through my reading [in the Economist Magazine, about urban manufacturing in Brooklyn, NY and elsewhere] that I first learned about the manufacturing incubator that was our “field trip” for a recent Accenture Digovation (digital + innovation) Event, to Chicago’s mHUB. I had to see what it was all about, so I joined the group from our Chicago Digital Hub for their visit in mid-September.

The mHUB is a 63,000-square-foot facility that contains 10 fabrication labs. The mHUB mission is helping Chicago’s “makers” ferry their ideas across “the chasm.” Let me explain. There is a place of maximum mortality in the lifecycle of most inventions. They start with promise, with a prototype, a business plan and some investment dollars. Then the invention advances, and often hits a deadly obstacle. Let’s say a product needs to produce 3,000 units to show market viability. A commercial production source—a traditional manufacturer—usually requires a minimum order of 5,000 pieces to even begin production. So, the challenge is: How to produce the next one thousand, two thousand or four thousand units, in order to reach a critical mass of sales? Before mHUB, this might not be possible, and another potentially brilliant invention will fall into the chasm and oblivion.

mHUB helps scrappy entrepreneurs reach the critical mass necessary to begin production. They do it by providing cool, otherwise inaccessible tools that operators can master quickly. The photo below shows a device that was used by our tour guide’s preschooler to make her own version of fidget spinners.

Our tour guide’s 4 yr old used this machine to make his own Fidget Spinners. #manufacturing #preschoolers

A post shared by Jeff Larche (@jefflarche) on

Lessons Learned at mHUB

What inspired me most was meeting and talking to inventors and entrepreneurs who happened to be there when we toured the facility. They were a diverse group, but what unified them was their vision and determination. I loved their focus. And I have no doubt that many will traverse the chasm and ferry their innovations into our lives.

We’re aligning ourselves with extraordinary innovators at Accenture, always finding exciting ways to turn innovation into solutions for our clients. Interested in a career where you get hands-on with the latest innovation? Here are a few tips to prepare yourself:

  1. Become really good at learning. I’m working with technologies that literally did not exist seven years ago. There is no way that your advanced education can teach you a trade, so don’t expect it to. Whatever your degree is in, continue to learn what interests you. Prepare to follow those interests (and to see them unexpectedly change!) throughout your career.
  2. Learn in the manner that works best for you. For example, I’m a mild dyslexic. That means in addition to reading books and articles the traditional way, I learn a lot through listening. I’m a podcast omnivore, with more than 40 podcast feeds, which in turn, feed me.
  3. Embrace the weird. It’s not an accident that in the last few years, Accenture has acquired two digital agencies based in Austin, Texas, where the motto is, “Keep Austin Weird.” Unconventional thinking leads to new ways of doing things. And only new solutions will bring us to a better future. Be part of that future. Embrace diversity by getting to know people from every culture and background.

Here’s a final bonus tip: If you’re interested in joining us, find a friend who works for Accenture, and have them recommend you. That’s what I did seven years ago. A friend referred me, and I never looked back. I’m loving where that decision has taken me. And if you don’t have such a friend, contact me. I’ll help you learn more about my extraordinary employer.

Take the next step in your career with Accenture and lead clients across the globe into the new.

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On Progress and Pronouns

This was originally posted on my local workplace’s Diversity blog. That post is behind a firewall.

The following rumination is given in the same spirit as the theatrical performance that inspired it: I recently saw Straight White Men, by the extremely gifted Young Jean Lee. It’s a comedy-drama about gender norms and expectations.

This trifle addresses a new use of pronouns to show respect for an individual’s … well … individuality. To put things in context, consider the word “parent.” As recently as a hundred years ago, parent in English-speaking cultures was a noun that meant not so much a sense of filial responsibility to a child as one of possession. A parent suggested a type of owner, in a way that no longer exists in the culture.

Child labor was common then. Supporting that norm, parent pretty much meant “boss of the child.” A parent could legally force a child to toil at great risk and harm, in the fields or the factory line. Today those norms have changed, and with them, the word. It even split in two: Parent is still a noun, but it’s also now a verb. “To parent” is assumed to mean bestowing something beneficial on a child. Even to very recent ancestors, upon finding a copy of Parenting magazine beamed to them from the future, this would be supremely baffling.

As you read below, please think of how language has changed with attitudes, and how it continues to change, arguably at an accelerated pace. As we strive to better understand the needs of previously voiceless groups … in our workplaces, our homes and social settings, keep in mind that it can be a bumpy ride, linguistically speaking. We can curse those bumps, or celebrate them. I invite you, dear reader, to relax and enjoy the ride. Take delight in our world’s growing richness and diversity.

The quite wonderful and thought-provoking Steppenwolf Theater production I saw opened with two cast members, who together announced to the audience the shared preference to be referred to with the non-cisgendered “they,” and its object pronoun form, “them.” They provided much to consider. And by they I don’t mean either one of them, although this is also true, but both. It’s unusual enough for someone like me to encounter one such soul. Two is a real night on the town.

Should you be wondering, there was no suggestion that they were a romantic couple. Not because one person cannot be a couple of any sort, romantic or otherwise, but because by using “they” just then I did not mean either of them but both.

You can see why this is interesting and yes, alarming. Two individuals in the same room who both prefer to be referred to using plural pronouns has increased linguistic complexity by the precise mathematical factor of O + M + G.

For example, when they are near each other at one of the inevitable cast parties, and by “they” of course I’m not implying that either of them can, on their own, be near themselves, but both. At the party. Together.

Let me start over.

It occurred to me that if one of them were to be referenced at said party as “them,” each would be compelled to turn, point, and say, “Do you mean me or them? Or us?” At which point I for one would need to excuse myself to freshen my drink.

Will this lead to a quota of just one they and them per social gathering? I sincerely hope not. They seemed quite charming, and by they I’m not singling one of them out, but merely saying each seemed like someone I would genuinely enjoy chatting with.

Just not together … Until I get it all, as it were, straight.

Possibly my favorite poem ever

The last three lines of this are a bit of a mantra for me, something I try hard to ask myself when I get too hung up on details and nonsense.

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

My most gutsy prediction yet: FMT will become commonplace

Unappealing qualities: We all have them. I have more than my share. Among mine is a face that, let’s be real, only a mother could love. (Its stock consequently plummeted four years ago with the the passing of its biggest fan.) Another is my embrace of the discipline of economics. Scottish historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle had a point when he called the discipline the dismal science. But maybe my least appealing quality, in terms of lowering the odds of me ever being the center of a spirited, rollicking, truly legendary party, is my tendency to predict the future. Two example predictions from four years ago are these:

  1. Most Millennials will live to see a day when the world is dining on meat grown in a lab,
  2. 3-D printers will, a’la the Internet, revolutionize our lives while disrupting whole economic sectors

As unappealing as this amateur futurism is, I’m afraid it’s like my face. It’s not going to change. I might as well wave it like a flag. So here is my next, and possibly most, unappealing prediction:

In Five Years FMT Will Be Commonplace

The unappealing part of this prediction is the “F.” It stands for “fecal.” Here’s an explanation from a recent New Yorker article on the medical treatment:

No one knows how many people have undergone fecal transplants—the official term is fecal microbiota transplantation, or FMT — but the number is thought to be at least ten thousand and climbing rapidly. New research suggests that the microbes in our guts — and, consequently, in our stool — may play a role in conditions ranging from autoimmune disorders to allergies and obesity, and reports of recoveries by patients who, with or without the help of doctors, have received these bacteria-rich infusions have spurred demand for the procedure. A year and a half ago, a few dozen physicians in the United States offered FMT. Today, hundreds do.

I had first heard of this work a few years back, in an episode of RadioLab. Lately the stories have piled up — either specifically citing FMT or at least implying its possible efficacy:

If you’re like me, you feel there is a lot that’s unappetizing about FMT. It has a huge yuck factor. What I find even more off-putting, though, is that many of the stories I’ve found (I’ve only included the best) suggest the start of a meme that may quickly rise to Full Hype Status, raising expectations beyond anything that reality can meet. For completely different reasons, FMT’s yuck factor could be its undoing.

On the other hand, my lack of enthusiasm for dwelling in poo, so to speak, is overridden by a sense of hope. I’m encouraged that we may have arrived at a new paradigm for curing chronic disorders.

Medical science is horribly hidebound, and is forever slow to embrace new ideas. It took Dr. Barry Marshall two decades to fully convince the medical establishment that ulcers are caused, not by stress, but by an easily treated bacterial infection. This, even after he infected himself with the bug and triggering a bleeding ulcer.

What’s I’m seeing is encouraging because the discussions are so public, and this attention seems to be accelerating a break with status quo beliefs about the role of bacteria in human health. There is increasing, and increasingly positive, attention being paid to the critters within us. Or should I say, the critters who are primarily us. As a recent New York Times article put it, “We are only 10 percent human: for every human cell that is intrinsic to our body, there are about 10 resident microbes … To the extent that we are bearers of genetic information, more than 99 percent of it is [non-human genetic information].”

As odd as it sounds, it’s stories like this that make me wish I were a younger man, and more likely to witness what our world seems destined to become. Unless of course I’m wrong. Because like all futurists, amateur or professional, I’m really going to hate it if I’m wrong.

Most practical commencement address ever

The late David Foster Wallace isn’t — or at least, wasn’t — my vision of a Zen master. He was too quick to write about his flaws, I guess, and too unstinting in his articulate cynicism. Those qualities don’t summon up for me a spiritual teacher, robed and incense-wreathed. But maybe Wallace’s brand of petulance and profanity actually qualifies him for the title, here in the Western world, in the same way that Louis C.K. can surprise you in an obscene comedic torrent with his vulnerability and compassion. The West’s worse qualities may call for just this brand of  medicine, fighting fire with fire.

Judge for yourself. Listen to this commencement speech and marvel at his (always) masterful delivery, and especially at the speech’s message. So true, so wise, so practical.

We miss you, sir.

Two personal passions in one: Buster Keaton and Pecha Kucha Night – Milwaukee

Buster KeatonA few years ago I participated in the newly-launched Pecha Kucha Night – Milwaukee. It was only the second time that one of these amazing nights took place in Milwaukee. In fact, back then it was still at its first home, the Hi Hat Lounge, on Milwaukee’s Brady Street. I wanted to talk about something so quirky for an audience of mostly 20-somethings that they’d take notice. I succeeded, and had a ball. I chose to talk about an early film genius. The quality of this audio (and my slides!) isn’t great, but I think it still gets my message across.

I hope you enjoy it.

My passion for niche film styles and pioneering directors has recently been rekindled. If you think you’d enjoy reading about more of my favorite, I encourage you to check out a list of films I think my friends should see and probably haven’t.

Yes, one of them is by Buster Keaton, circa 1927.

By the way, if you’re curious about the stunts I reference in the presentation, here’s a terrific 2-minute tribute to him that features all of them, including “catching” a moving car and nearly getting crushed by a falling house facade. At the time of this posting I see that less than 200 people have watched this video. I encourage you to give it a look and uo that number. It’s the least we could do to reward its creator for this outstanding introduction to Keaton.

Test Tube T-bones

BeefA magazine article I read as a kid has stayed with me all these years. It must have been 1970. Back then Time was an important window to the world (scary thought). In this piece its editors wanted to dazzle us with visions of the future; 50 years hence to be exact. They had a staff artist sketch the predictions of a jury of futurists. The result is a picture of the men and women who would inhabit the U.S., circa 2020. These people, it didn’t escape my notice, were the young adults I would come to know when I was as old as my grandparents.

You could see in those sketches the time’s many revolutionary changes. The forecasters used as their starting blocks the recent revolutions in feminism, fashion and technology — and probably many more. They ran feverishly from that spot, only stopping when the horizon gleamed brightly with geo-domes and hovercrafts. Sometimes optimistic, the depictions were mostly just plain weird.

True, there were a few on-target predictions. I especially recall the general metrosexual appearance of the men.  It seems that by then facial hair will be outlawed, or perhaps cured. The men were also uniformly round-shouldered, presumably made so by the helpful toilings of brawny robots. As for the fairer gender, I was a little too young then to notice, but yes, the women of the future will be plenty hot … if you go in for the boyish, fashion model types.

A Thin Future

Conspicuous by today’s standards, no one depicted in this lineup looked even remotely in need of Jenny Craig. The effects of the Earl Butz / Nixon Era agricultural policies had not yet materialized at the time of the article, so the futurists couldn’t factor them forward to today’s ever-expanding American waistlines. Corn crops were not yet heavily subsidized. The cost of food on American tables was three times higher in 1970 than it is today, factored for inflation. Futurists had no inkling of a time where cheap corn-based calories were the norm and rates of obesity and diabetes were through the roof.

Those postcards from the future seemed lightweight in other ways as well.

There were many small gaffes. Example: There were no tattoos or piercings. There were several glaring ones, too. I recall that all the Americans were WASP-white. (This was after all from a time in our history when, until a few year earlier, Crayola was able to unironically label a salmony-beige crayon “Flesh.”) Also, inexplicably, everyone in 2020 will wear long robes. Did you know this? Apparently we’ll all look like we just stepped out of the shower.

The Future, Now and Then

Why do I bring all this up? I occasionally read freshly-minted portraits of the future, and I find it fun to compare the way they make me feel now versus back then. I’ve just read a new glimpse of our future, and I can tell you this: Our future, four decades ago, may have looked weird, but today the future just looks gross.

I’m referring to the recent New Yorker story about meat that is being cultured in the lab. Yes. Right now, in 2011. Food scientists are taking stem cells of our holy trinity of animal protein – cattle, chickens and pigs – and culturing them in a nutrient-rich broth. As you may know, stem cells are capable of turning into any of their owners’ tissues. Scientists are flipping the cellular switches to Muscle and seeing what happens.

What they’re finding is plenty: The promise of cheap, plentiful meat. This is meat free of corn-fed, antibiotic drenched, water-guzzling, e-coli-growing livestock. Yes, all this from clusters of cells multiplying with abandon in labs far from their genetic benefactors.

These scientists are also finding that by “folding” sheets of these cultured cells onto themselves, they can create what will look like ground meat. Future research will look at the next step, using 3-D printers that issue bubbles of specialized cells instead of colors of ink to “print” lab-grown steaks, cutlets and chops.

Is your mouth watering yet? No, mine isn’t either. But if you care for the fate of the earth you may want to stay seated at the table.

Solving Several Global Problems At Once

In the May 23, 2011 issue of the New Yorker, Michael Specter describes this strange but thrilling convergence of people and technology. He writes, “[This is] a new discipline, propelled by an unlikely combination of stem-cell biologists, tissue engineers, animal-rights activists, and environmentalists.”

A brand new discipline is a big deal. The father and elder statesman of this one is William van Eelen, an 88-year-old Dutch native; part-time scientist, and full-time zealot. He is the focus of this New Yorker piece. Specter reports that van Eelen has pursued his dream of feeding the world from a Petri dish since the 1950s. We learn that he doggedly championed his cause in (not surprisingly) the face of decades of aggressive skepticism and even derision. It has only been relatively recently that technology and world events have caught up to him and begun to propel his work forward. A dozen years ago he achieved an important milestone. He was granted U.S. and international patents for his Industrial Production of Meat Using Cell Culture Methods.

Why are environmentalists among its supporters?

For all the carbon emissions they are responsible for, you’d think every beef flank and chicken breast we eat arrives at our plates from the back of a Hummer. According to the piece, “our patterns of meat consumption have become increasingly dangerous for both individuals and the planet …”

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the global livestock industry is responsible for nearly twenty percent of humanity’s greenhouse-gas emissions. That is more than all cars, trains, ships and planes combined. Cattle consume nearly ten percent of the world’s freshwater resources, and eighty percent of all farmland is devoted to the production of meat.

There is also a cure for individual crises: “According to a report issued recently by the American Public Health Association, animal waste from industrial farms ‘often contains pathogens, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria’ … Seventy percent of all antibiotics and related drugs consumed in the United States are fed to hogs, poultry, and beef.

“[Also,] the World Health Organization has attributed a third of the world’s deaths to the twin epidemics of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, both greatly influenced by excessive consumption of animal fats.” The article made the point that by re-engineering the meat that’s being cultured, we may someday be able to dine on burgers more akin to health food than heart-attacks-on-a-bun.

Phasing Out the Factory Animal

That’s just the humanitarian outlook of in-vitro meat. Let’s not forget the “animalitarian” perspective:

By 2030, the world will likely consume seventy percent more meat than it did in 2000. The … implications for animal welfare [are daunting]: billions of cows, pigs, and chickens spend their entire lives crated, boxed, or force-fed grain in repulsive conditions on factory farms.

We’re reassured in the article that the cure for these social ills won’t leave a bad taste in our mouths. The fact is, we’re not talking about artificial meat. It’s the real thing. This is hard for people to grasp, as demonstrated by the way Terry Gross of Fresh Air struggled with the idea in her recent interview of Mr. Specter.

He concedes this point, and its general lack of appeal, “Nearly every person I told that I was working on this piece asked the same question: What does it taste like? (And the first word most people blurted out to describe their feelings was ‘Yuck.’) Researchers say that taste and texture – fats and salt and varying amounts of protein – can be engineered into lab-grown meat with relative ease.”

What won’t be easy is scale.

This work is being done by scientists now in tiny quanitities, with muscle tissue no larger than contact lenses. What is needed is a quite transition from science to engineering. Rallying the financing for this won’t be easy until more people can see a shared vision of the benefits of in-vitro meat.

But don’t despair. Just as the space program in the 1960s prospered because the science was already in place, the scientific underpinnings of industrial meat exist today. What is lacking is awareness. That, and the leadership necessary to tackle tough problems like global warming, and human hunger and illness, in the face of a future that makes us all a little queasy. It’s one thing for a nation to get behind men on the moon. It’s another to look forward to tucking into a test tube T-bone.

Photo credit courtesy The Big Scout Project via Creative Commons

I’ll miss you Mom. Remembering Barb Larche

Barbara E Larche

Tuesaday I got the news that no one wants to hear. My mother passed away.

She fought like few people I’ve ever met but it was time.

The many numbing hours of visitations, plus the funeral and mausoleum entombment (what a term!), were predictably horrible. But they coalesce now as among the most inspiring hours of my life. I was privileged to meet literally hundreds of people whose lives have been changed for the better by this extraordinary woman. So, will you indulge me?

Four Lessons

One of the most moving moments this week was hearing the following. It’s a remembrance of Barbara Larche that was presented during the funeral service by my neice, Brooke Prins.

Brooke, I’m sorry. I had to share it (edited ever so slightly, as it is, for this printed format). Forgive me. The fact is there are several friends who weren’t able to attend and really should to read this. It’s a beautiful, eloquent remembrance of an amazing person.

First off, thank you so much for the overwhelming love and support you have all shown my family yesterday, today, and this past week and month. We are truly blessed to have such wonderful friends and family, and it’s a testament to how many people were touched by my Grandma.

We’re here today to celebrate my grandma Barb. Chances are if you knew my grandma, you also had some fun with my grandma. Because she was a fun-loving lady. But more than that, she was a special, special lady. She had the love and best friendship of her devoted husband “Socko.” She raised three incredible – and incredibly different – sons. She was a very cool grandma. And she was an entertaining and fun friend to many, many people.

It’s difficult to sum up a life such as my grandma’s. She lived so well and had so many stories, it was hard to pare it down to a few minutes. So what I’ve decided is to share with you some of the things I learned from my grandma. These are life lessons that she taught by example. Her life was a lesson in living, and she did it really well.

The first thing my grandma taught me was to HAVE A GREAT STYLE.

In all my life, my grandma presented herself with class and dignity. She was well-groomed. As a matter of fact, the first order of business upon being released from the hospital a few weeks ago was to go see her hairdresser, Brenda, to have her hair done.

Never mind that she was exhausted and sick, she would feel better if she was beautiful. Everything Grandma chose was stylish, and she made sure to always be “put-together” … although I do question the red glasses she wore when I was little, even if it was the 80’s.

Besides that, she shared her own great taste with her family. How many teenage girls are excited to see what their grandma picked out for them for Christmas each year? Grandma and Grandpa always nailed it, finding something cool and appropriate for all us grandkids.

The second thing Grandma taught me was to BE A GREAT FRIEND.

It’s no secret that my grandparents were fond of their routine, but a big part of that routine each week was for Grandma to spend time with her girlfriends on Wednesday nights. Marlene, Joanie, Lillan, and Grandma spent many a night enjoying time at The Stonehouse for some girl bonding.

She knew how important it is to make time for your friends.

She also shared some lifelong friendships. She met her closest friend, Mitzy, in grade school and she carried that friendship throughout her life. Then there are the friends that Grandpa and Grandma made wherever they went. Together, they were the life of every party and a joy to be around. People loved spending time with both of them, and they were well-known at the Elks Club, the Country Club, The Stonehouse, and I’m sure there are a few people in Vegas that will miss Grandma as well.

Wherever she went, Grandma left a smile and a laugh.

The third thing Grandma taught me is to SHARE A GREAT LOVE. She and my grandpa shared a lifelong love.

She would tell us how they met in kindergarten, and she couldn’t help but fall in love with the freckled faced, red haired “Socko.” As teenagers, Grandpa would watch out his window for his sweetheart to walk by so he could walk her to school. Apparently neither one of their parents were thrilled by this, but there really was no separating the two of them.

Aunt Pat has said that you never knew a Socko or a Barb, it was always Socko and Barb. If you want an example of how to be happily married, theirs is one of the best. No matter what they did, they did it together. They took care of each other, they supported each other, and they shared everything with one another. But most importantly, they had fun together.

As a couple, my grandparents were a force to be reckoned with.

The fourth thing Grandma taught me is to LIVE A GREAT LIFE. We shared so many fun times as a family.

Our Thanksgivings each year include singing songs from the good ol’ days and playing games. I can tell you, I don’t know what we girls are going to do without Grandma to answer the sports questions in Trivial Pursuit!

Vegas was another highlight of Grandma’s life. She loved to gamble, and I can’t believe how LUCKY she was. On their 51st wedding anniversary, we went as a family to Las Vegas.

While the rest of us were sitting around the pool soaking up the sun, Grandma was inside winning the jackpot. She and Grandpa came out to find us, and she announced it as nonchalantly as if she had simply won free a breakfast.

That’s not to say that Grandma took her good luck for granted, but I do think she considered her other good fortunes – like family, friends, and Socko – to be infinitely more important than her luck at the slot machines.

My grandparents had a couple tricks up their sleeves for living a great life. First of all, my grandma never complained about a thing.

If she was feeling poorly these past few years, you only knew it because she might leave a little earlier than usual. Maybe it was all her years as a nurse that taught her to keep her own complaints to herself. Whatever it was, she was one of the strongest women I know. And she was one of the youngest grandmas I know.

That’s because she and Socko lived as though they would never grow old.

You’re only as old as you feel, and my grandparents felt like teenagers their whole lives.

Grandma Barb lived her whole life to its fullest. She had fun, whatever she did. She never slowed down, she refused to grow old, and she lived up to the very end.

Even after surgery a few weeks ago, she woke up asking for a Manhattan! She had a terrific sense of humor.

On her last day, my grandpa came to see her just as she was finishing her dinner. My dad was there, and he offered to help with her dessert before he left, but grandpa said he’d take care of it. Grandma looked at my dad to say, “He wants my cake.”

The world is a little less colorful without Grandma in it, and we’re going to miss her terribly. It doesn’t feel real yet, I still feel like she’s with us when we’re all together.

But in a lot of ways, she always will be with us. After all, she showed us all how to have a great style, be a great friend, share a great love, and live a great life. We couldn’t have had a better example to follow, and I’m happy for all the time I was blessed to have with my Grandma. We’ll all be with her again someday, but in the meantime we can cherish the great memories and follow her great example.

I love you Grandma Barb.

Me too Brooke.


The first poet who wrote for adults that I ever read was Ogden Nash. I was 10 years old, at St. Joseph’s Elementary School in Escanaba, Michigan. (It’s now a parking lot.) Finding a collection of his poetry in the school library was a revelation. It really solidified my love of language and whimsy.

Every sunny July I think of this poem. I hope it makes you smile as much as it does me:

Summer Serenade