Saturday, January 30, 2010

An Exercise in Circumlocution…

In the preceding post, I attempted (hopefully with a bit of humor) to utilize every buzzword I had accumulated over the past few months.

I had inspiration for this type of effort early-on.  My Dad was sitting around work one day (man, they lived in a different universe than we do…) and came up with a little essay, which he presented to me upon my departure for Baylor.  Fortunately, I thought  it funny enough to stick it in a photo album.  It’s one of those old sticky page photo albums, so now the paper’s irrevocably attached (apparently at the molecular level) to the book.  Nevertheless, I still have the document.



by Maurice Jones

     To obtain an education, whether in pursuit of your vocation or a pleasant avocation, or for your personal gratification there is required a degree of determination (and some professorial exhortation) to overcome the strong temptation to go into hibernation or indulge in abstract meditation during a student recitation or a professor’s dull narration.

     Despite a student’s prognostication that he will suffer from prostration or, at the least, regurgitation if he is forced into participation, it isn’t likely that all of his expostulation will force the administration to enter into negotiation concerning the assignation of a daily compilation of enlightening information.

     I say to you without equivocation that if your are planning matriculation, you should request elucidation on all subjects under consideration and refuse all invitations to indulge in excessive fraternization that would result in vacillation.

     If you will always practice excogitation your compensation at the termination of this period of melioration will be acclamation by your paternal relation and receipt of documentation which attests to your graduation.



Although everyone knows I'm addicted to my computer, I do not want to read books on it. One of my favourite books/short stories ever is "A Christmas Carol"; I've had many copies over the years, usually either lending them and not getting them back or just plain losing them. When I moved to Houston, I think my last copy went to the Malvern Library in one of the *47* cartons of books I gave them for their sale.

In any event, this year I needed to read it again and looked it up on the innerwebs. It's public domain, so there are various versions of it. I tried reading it online but finally wound up just printing the thing to read in my hand.

Somehow, a book is just comforting. I like books. I like the way they look; I like the way they feel; I like the way they smell. If it's an old, used book, I like the way it falls open to the previous owner's favourite part. If it's an old library book, it has that "library" smell, which is a comfort smell to me because of all the time I've spent in the library.   

I just like books.

In some ways, I feel sorry for the current crop of kiddos.  They might use books, but they use all the various search engines to find their subject matter.  When I was in school (to which I walked 5 miles in the snow…), one had to be organized to write a paper.  You had to spend hours in the library at the card catalogue, sifting through the thousands of cards to find the 2 or 3 books that had the information you needed, then go to that section of the library and find the books---and READ them (or at least skim them).  I’m not saying that way was better (you can have my computer when you pry my cold dead fingers off the keyboard), and I love Google, but there is something to be said for the skill needed to organize a manual search.  

As print media gives way to the inexorable force of the electron, certain things are being lost---and this loss is NOT an improvement.  Newspapers were the chronicles of mankind from the 17th century to the 21st.  Many editions are still available, and it’s fascinating to look at The Times archives and read about the ongoing difficulties in the Colonies, or India, or about something Disraeli or Churchill said yesterday.  These moldy old papers are still hanging around. 

I have a small brown paper bag on the bookshelf in my Den.  It contains all the letters my Dad wrote home to his parents and sisters during World War II (In another area, I have at least most of the letters he wrote Mother).  The letters are on that peculiar onionskin GI paper, and censored by government censors.  Now, my email output is about that much PER DAY, but it’s ephemeral---it doesn’t really record anything; it’s not an archive of thought.  It consists of blurbs, dribs, and drabs---little shots of thought here and there.  We’re losing letters altogether (when is the last time you took pen and paper and wrote one?).

All this electronic stuff is fantastic---right up until the power goes out.



If, for the next generation, Apple builds a bigger ipad, will it be a maxi-pad?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Buzzing Around


At work, we’re in a huge state of transition; the company for which I’ve worked for the last 6 months lost their contract, effective 1-31-10; the new company was kind enough to offer me a job with them (same office, same everything, but February 1 I’ll be employed by a different company).  We’ve been working like demons to make sure the transition is as “seamless” as possible, but this is a whole big bunch like a divorce:  everybody’s trying to be very nice and very professional, but the old company doesn’t like it one bit and the new company is anxious to get started, with “us kids” (my staff and me) in the middle. 

We’re ripping out the old office stuff and installing new; it’s got to be coordinated like D-Day; all the old ties need to be dissolved and all the new established---not just furniture and equipment (that’s fairly easy), but mapping thousands of computer fields, transitioning to completely different vendors, computer software, trying to fit square pegs into round holes, coordinating training and “onboarding” for staff, while trying to carry on with “normal” business.  I’m not solely responsible for all of this, not by a long shot, but I am involved in every one of the decisions; I’m a guest on every one of the 10,000 conference calls; I have to try to explain to the staff where we’re going and how we’re going to do it so they can push it out to the public….I’ve been getting home around 8 o’clock every night, eating something, and crashing.


In the process, I’ve learnt many new and fun buzzerswith which you can both baffle and amuse your little friends!

Granular”---imagine yourself on a beautiful beach; the white sand, the blue sky….so when you look at the beach, are you seeing one thing (the beach) or 10,000,000,000,000,000 things (each individual grain of sand)?  If you’re seeing all the granules, you’re getting “granular”.  So to “get granular” (short for “getting down to the granular level”, which is also used and technically correct while already being a bit passé) with regard to work means you are examining a thing at the microscopic, or lowest possible, level.  We’ve been “granular” a lot these last two weeks.  Conversely, you can stop someone cold by saying, “I’m not trying to get that granular here; I’m looking at the Big Picture.”  (It is still acceptable to look at the Big Picture).

Deliverables”---I owe you an Excel Spreadsheet, or some data, or a return phone call regarding a question you asked that I can’t answer.  I have a “Deliverable” for you.  (Question asked often this week by all:  “Let’s see, do I have any Deliverables for you?”).

Onboarding” (and its kinda/sorta counterpart, “reverse takeover”).  We are “onboarding” with the new company, while experiencing a “reverse takeover” with the old one.  In order to onboard correctly, we must remember to “ramp up” our knowledge base while “retrofitting” those things that do work but must be made to fit in with the new order.

Process Map”---this is a “flowchart” with a swanky new moniker!  I’ve been designing Process Maps for YEARS and didn’t even know!

Throw (insert name here) under the bus…”---if someone has to be thrown under the bus, hope it’s not you!  This is a new expression for a time-honored human practice:  scapegoating!  “Can you believe Fred just threw Barbara under the bus during that conference call???"  “Now look, I don’t want to throw old Fred under the bus here, but it WAS his department’s failure that caused this fiasco….”  “Barbara is trying to throw me under the bus on this thing, and I don’t like it even a little bit!”

It is what it is”---ok, guilty as charged on this one, I use it 100 times a day.  “We can’t change that, it is what it is.”

Circle back”---this means, “get back with” or “meet again to discuss this issue after we’ve both had a chance to check on the things we need to find out”.  “Janet, let’s circle back on Thursday, between “Calls” (short for “Conference Call”), on this issue, ok?  Now, will you need to circle back with Pierre before you circle back with me?”

And, not exactly a buzzword, but dreaded words for everyone in business in this era of conference calls taking up most of the day (to the point where you can’t get to your email!):  “(beep) Who just joined?”  We have conference calls with 20 people in 4 time zones; most just “mute out”, that is to say, mute their microphones and go on about whatever it is they’re doing; this is exceptionally annoying when someone has asked a complicated, 5-minute question and then said, “…isn’t that right, Janet?” and Janet, who is responsible for the answer but has been doing email, says, “I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?”

Honestly, at the end of the day, in order to break through the clutter and make it “pop”, I pick the low-hanging fruit by synergistically utilizing our human assets and integrating our Best Practices into the new paradigm, while not neglecting our Core Competencies. I have to herd cats in a seamless, integrated fashion while simultaneously ensuring that mission-critical, client-focused events stay on track and are timeline-compliant going forward. In order to accomplish this fast-track infrastructure retrofit, while ensuring that the analytics, metrics and logistics are taken together in a holistic, organic manner, great care must be exercised to avoid silo mentality and ensure granular-level co-opetition between ourselves and our business partners, being ever-mindful of the long tail that, if ignored, can have a catastrophic effect on the enterprise long-term. 

In other words, I’m basting the turkey and boiling the ocean here; I don’t have time to worry about a damn blog entry!   ;-)

(Think I’ll take a little bow on those last two paragraphs; I worked hard on them and they DO actually describe reality for me right now).

For those iphone users:  there’s an app for that.


bickits and honey

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Alas, Greycliff

IMG_1680 IMG_1660 IMG_1663 IMG_1667 IMG_1668

The Original Giovanni


IMG_1670  IMG_1674 IMG_1678 IMG_1679

Photos by my cousin Cathy Fink, 1-17-2010

Monday, January 11, 2010



There was ONE survivor (besides the people) from the Greycliff fire!

The Original Giovanni remains on its wall, where it always was!  Charred, needs refinishing, shades and bulbs gone, but the Giovanni remains.

The living room walls (made of rock) collapsed with the heat, as did several of the rock columns.  There are no other contents remaining, and as of this writing (1/11/10) the fire is still burning.  The tarpaper roof (while now on the floor) is still on fire, and will be for several days, even weeks.  Nothing else remains. 

I told them they’d need to name the new house the Greycliff Phoenix, rising from the ashes.  She’s going to build it back on the same plan, with some modifications---and across the road, rather than on the old site.  When the new house is finished, the Giovanni will take its place as a reminder of the past, in the new house that looks to the future.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Hits Just Keep on Happening---Earth, Wind, and Fire, or, How Punkin Saved the Day

Friday was a tough day for my family (see the blog post immediately prior to this one).  More on that later.  Dad was supposed to go home with his sister, Aunt Shorty, to Greycliff for an extended vacation/clear-the-head session.  Unfortunately, Aunt Shorty and her family couldn’t get out of their driveway.  Too much ice.

Many of my friends know my Aunt Shorty (Arline Peeler-Fink).  She’s a die-hard fan of the Arkansas Razorbacks (took me to my first game), went to WebHogs tailgates and football games with me for years, and is just generally a great friend, in addition to being a relative.

In 1958, Aunt Shorty and her husband, Cal Peeler, were on Dyess AFB in Abilene, Texas.  Knowing they were about to retire, they cast about to decide where to go and what to do.  A friend of theirs in the Army Corps of Engineers told them, “Hey, y’all ought to go to Northwest Arkansas, we’re about to put in a big lake up there.”  They went up the treacherous, rural highways and looked the place over; there were tiny towns nearby like Rogers, Bentonville (there was a dime store there called “Walton’s 5 & 10”), and Springdale.  The closest town of any size was the college town, Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas.

They bought their land and started walking it.  On it, overlooking the (future Beaver) Lake, they found a large cliff of grey rock.  They had an architect draw house plans for this site; they had in mind a Frank Lloyd Wright, mid-century modern style home for the spectacular setting.  I remember them at our dining room table in Dallas when I was six; they were proudly showing Mom and Dad the plans for their spectacular new home.

They retired from the USAF and moved to a rental in Fayetteville.  Cal returned to college, got his advanced degrees, and became a professor at the University (they say his math classes were pretty tough).  Meanwhile, Shorty got a job as a secretary at the VA Hospital, working for the Chief of Surgery, Bill Fink.  [The Peelers and the Finks became fast friends, and remained so (first Kay Fink, then Cal Peeler, died, and Arline and Bill wound up together for almost 20 years). ]

There was a “shotgun shack” on the property; it had been a farmhouse a hundred years before, but was mostly a hunting camp.  They fixed the shack up and lived in it on the weekends while they cleared timber, put in roads, and mostly picked up rocks.  Rocks, you know, are part of the EARTH.

They picked up rocks in the boiling heat of summer.  They picked up rocks in the freezing cold of winter.  They picked up rocks in the rain.  They picked up rocks with flashlights.  They picked up rocks, then they picked up more rocks, then (just for fun, when they had nothing else to do) they picked up rocks.  They had rock pick up parties.  They drafted young nephews to help pick up rocks.  There were lots of rocks.  Rocks, rocks, rocks. 

They used the rocks to build the house.  Every exterior wall, several interior walls, the balcony half-wall, the massive fireplace---all rocks, picked up by hand by them, their friends, and family.  Individuals had individual rocks identified (“I picked up that one!”). 

The house was a triumph of the Wright philosophy.  Flat roofed, it looked as though it were an extension of the hillside, part of the cliff.  You drove up the steep rock driveway and suddenly encountered…a carport??  Walking along the rock (ahem) walkway by the carport, you came into a lovely open-air lanai.  Unexpectedly, the lanai was paved with Florentine marble!  They had a connection for marble, and used bits and pieces of marble left over from other jobs to form a beautiful floor that looked like nothing so much as a Mondrian painting.

That floor flowed through the beautifully carved front door into the entry hall and dining room.  The dining room (featuring a beautiful teak table, tall white upholstered chairs, matching teak breakfront full of beautiful American Brilliant Cut glass, sterling silver, and other nice things.  One wall was glass, overlooking the courtyard.  The other was a half-wall (with a solid middle, the back of the massive fireplace) made of rocks.  A stroll over to the rock half-wall revealed a two story living room, hanging off the cliff, with twin staircases (rock) leading down from the dining room into the living room; the outer wall was a wall of windows overlooking the lake. 

To the left along the balcony was the kitchen, den, an extra bedroom, and a deck.  To the right was a master bedroom, huge bathroom with marble five foot by four foot roman soaking tub, shower stall, and his-and-hers walk-in closets—and another large deck.

DSC_0013d On the back of the fireplace, on the rock wall, there hung a fascinating piece.  I’m going to try to try to tell the story, but I reserve the right to re-tell if I get the details wrong. 

The story:  a friend of theirs in St. Louis, named John, got this old sconce off the wall of a hotel that was being demolished.  He thought of it for this spot, and brought it to them.  They thought, “Mmmm, kay”, but liked it and hung it anyway—what else to put there and why the hell not?  Later, another friend came to visit and oooohed and aaahhhhed and generally fawned over the piece.  “What is it?  It’s fabulous!  What a work of art!”  “Why,” Cal responded with characteristically totally straight face, “Don’t you know?  That’s an original GIOVANNI!”  (Cal was totally serious; everybody else was trying desperately not to howl).  The friend bought it hook, line, and sinker, and the original GIOVANNI! had a permanent home.  Note rocks behind it.  (For those who don’t know, Giovanni is “John” in Italian…).

DSC_0012There were things wrong, of course.  The builder got the kitchen wall 2 feet  short---in other words, the kitchen was two feet smaller than was planned.  It was always a tight fit.  The fountain that was planned for the lanai never materialized until just a few years ago.  The two decks proved impractical, and were enclosed as extra rooms. 

Mainly, though, there was the issue of the roof. 

Flat roofs are usually “built up” roofs; that is, they are made of layer after layer of tarpaper, literally “built up” to form a (hopefully) impenetrable barrier (theirs never was, it leaked constantly).  Theirs was covered with…rocks.  Lots and lots of gray rocks, picked up by hand.  Rocks, rocks, rocks.  Rocks which helped give the illusion that the house grew out of the cliff.  Pure Wright.

Rocks are heavy.  If you’re going to put rocks on the roof, you’d better make sure it’s braced properly.  Their architect and builder assured them it was.  It wasn’t.

One day, Aunt Shorty arrived on the jobsite to discover that her beautiful living room with the expansive view---had a pole in the middle of it.  The pole held up the sagging roof.  She screamed.  She cried.  She “spoke sternly”.  She threatened.  She pleaded.  They apologized, then encased the pole in the same rocks.  She named it her “Maypole”, and it bugged the hell out of her every time she saw it.

They moved in in 1967. 

Everybody they knew came to visit.  The joke was, if you wanted to go see the Peelers, you needed to make a reservation at the Hotel Peeler.  They boated.  They fished.  They ate the fish they caught, expertly grilled, fried, or otherwise prepared.  They hauled stuff around in their great old truck, a yellow Dodge named “The Yellow Peril.”  They had everybody they knew as houseguests.

Shorty loved every minute of it.  She was in her element as hostess; it’s her natural role in life.  Anybody who’s ever attended one of her parties, or been a guest in her home, knows this to be true.

Ultimately, the roof leaked and sagged enough over the years that they had a “normal” roof of trusses, plywood sheeting, regular shingles, etc, built right on top of the old built-up roof.  It no longer leaked.  The boring beetles got to the beautiful cedar siding, and the house was re-sided with regular siding.  No longer “Wright”, but still a beautiful home.

Cal died.  Arline married “Pop”.  They split time between Greycliff and Pop’s house in Fayetteville.  When Pop passed away last year, Aunt Shorty moved back to Greycliff to live out her life overlooking the lake she loves.


Pop in the den at Greycliff; note rocks


This morning (coldest on record), Aunt Shorty (now 91) was pleased to welcome her son Jack for coffee.  I imagine they were discussing the weather and the fact that Jack had had to put a space heater under the pipes under Shorty’s bedroom, trying to keep them from freezing, and how they would be glad to welcome my Dad. 

Dad was supposed to go home from Mom’s funeral with them yesterday, but there was too much ice on their road and they reluctantly decided they couldn’t make it.  Accordingly, Dad came home with us last night on the Gulfstream and came home with me to Houston today.  We all figured, the ice will be melted by Tuesday and I can pop him on a plane to Tulsa Tuesday morning; he’ll be at Greycliff before lunch.

So Shorty and Jack were sitting there at the breakfast table.  The door to the dining room was closed (kept drafts to a minimum).  Punkin, the miniature Pinscher, began to act strangely.  She jumped up and down, barked, ran to the dining room door, barked some more, ran around, barked, and generally panicked.  Shorty tried to calm her down but she refused to be calm.  Jack got up and went to the dining room door, opened it, and said, “Mother, the house is full of smoke.  Get the dog and let’s go.”

Greycliff burned to the ground today, January 9, 2010.

Here’s a link to the newspaper photo.

The space heater must have blown over in the WIND, contacted some insulation, which caught FIRE.  The fire spread to the attic, the attic which had been dry for many years, the attic whose floor was a built-up roof of layer after layer of old tarpaper.  Once the fire touch that tarpaper, it was only a matter of events taking their course.

Three fire departments responded; unfortunately, one of the fire trucks slipped on the still-slick, steep road and injured a firefighter; our family is praying for his speedy recovery.  There just wasn’t much for them to do.

Aunt Shorty is the owner of acres and acres fronting Beaver Lake, a Lexus, a Prius, a sweat suit, a pair of tennis shoes, a miniature pinscher, a smoking, charred pile of rocks on top of cracked, ruined Florentine marble, an excellent insurance policy---and her life, for which we are all intensely grateful.

Punkin, already “somewhat” pampered, will (as far as I’m concerned) dine on steak the rest of her doggy life.  Any puddles, poopies, hair, barking, or any other doggy foibles are hereby and permanently forgiven and forgotten. 

I called Aunt Shorty today and told her that my house was hers as long as she wanted.  Her response:  “Oh, honey, I’ve got a ton of houses.  All of my children and grandchildren want me to come live with them.  All of the Fink kids and grandkids want me to come live with them.  I guess now I’ll have to add your house to the list, but I just need a quick place to stay while I rebuild Greycliff!”  I told her that was a good thing; now she’ll have somebody to boss around.

We’re just glad to still have our Shorty.  I guess this means I’ve got to go to Rogers…and pick up some rocks.  


Dad, at Greycliff, with the heroine of the day


P. S.---Why do I not have a picture of Shorty at Greycliff? 

Greycliff was exceedingly difficult to photograph.  As I said, a triumph of Wright architecture, it was difficult to get a photo of anything except the carport.  The rest of the house hung off the cliff, or jutted out of it.  The best shot was from the lake, but I never got any of those.  The rest burned in the fire, along with all of our family photos (other than the ones I now have), part of Gramp’s fabulous cut glass collection, Arline and Cal’s extensive Hummel collection, the Haviland china, the flag that was on Cal’s coffin, dogtags, “wings”, 10,000 books, a huge collection of wonderful vinyl records, all those wonderful recipes and cookbooks….

Now, getting a picture of the Short One in her Natural Habitat---or out of it---is multiple levels of difficulty harder.  She does NOT like to have her photo made.  I’ll keep looking, but I promise nothing.

As Shorty’s daughter in law told her today:  “New year, new house, new woman!”

GO, SHORTY, GO!  I hope you live to be 130.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I’ll always love you Mom



MP Wedding 061a

Martha Virginia Tarkington Jones

August 6, 1926 – January 4, 2010


Martha Virginia Tarkington Jones, 83, died Monday, January 4, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas. Born in Malvern, Arkansas to Roy Brooks Tarkington and Audie Virginia Brown Tarkington, she was raised in Malvern and Prescott. In 1943, she married Maurice Eugene Jones (son of Jester and Stella Jones of Malvern) following a whirlwind courtship. “And they said it wouldn’t last.”

Following World War II, the couple moved to Dallas, Texas, where Martha became an operator for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company; there, she made friends with whom she was close for the remainder of her life. She worked for Southwestern Bell until the birth of her third child, at which time she became a full-time homemaker. Following moves to Corpus Christi, Texas and Ft. Worth, Texas, the family moved to San Antonio, Texas, where she returned to work as a school nurse at Montgomery Elementary School.

After one more move (to Tulsa, Oklahoma), Martha and Maurice retired and returned to Malvern, where they enjoyed retirement for 25 years before moving once again to San Antonio to be near their children.

Preceded in death by her oldest daughter, Ted Laneca Jones of Malvern, she is survived by her husband of 67 years, Maurice Jones of San Antonio, Texas; her son, Nick-Alan Tarkington Jones of Houston, Texas; her daughter, Marla Jones Rhodes, son-in-law Philip Rhodes, and two grandchildren, Rachel Virginia Smith and David Mark Smith, all of Boerne, Texas, as well as many friends and relatives.

Whether sculpting and painting in her ceramics studio, relaxing on the boat on Lake DeGray, collecting everything from seashells to figurines, playing with her dogs, or enjoying Christmas on the beach at Navarre Beach, Florida, Martha always exhibited a zest for life, a love of fun, dancing, and parties, and fierce love of and loyalty to her family. Her wit and joi de vivre will be missed by all who knew her. She truly was a “Renaissance Woman”.

Her funeral will be held at First Baptist Church, Malvern, under direction of J. A. Funk Funeral Home, on Friday, January 8, at 1:00 pm; Interment to follow at Shadowlawn Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Online condolences may be made via




O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

I AM the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.

I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.
We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.