Sunday, April 19, 2015

The meaning of success: I suppose it depends on how you look at it

JM79 Senior Personalities
One morning in the spring of 1979, in my senior year of high school, I was sitting in homeroom with everyone else & listening to the morning’s announcements (over the PA system) when they announced the results for the ‘Senior Personalities’ of our class. I heard Mary Beatty & Bruce Howard for Class Clowns and thought “Well, I don’t really know Mary, but Bruce, yeah that makes sense” and next was Damon Wilson & Dana Policz for Famous Heights and again I thought “Well, I got those two right—I voted for both of ‘em.”

Then I heard Karen Huffman & Doug Morris, Most Likely to Succeed. I sat there for a moment, truly dumbfounded—Karen, sure.. she was a go-getter.  But me?

My next thought was “I’ve somehow managed to bamboozle enough of these people into thinking I’m going to amount to something, and I wasn’t even trying.”  I never expected to be a senior personality, let alone one I admired so much.

I wore that title like a badge of honor the next few weeks, it gave me a boost of confidence that I never really had. Graduation night, as I accepted my diploma with the rest of my class, so what if I wasn’t in the Top Ten? I was destined for success, I just knew it—I was special!

Graduation night: my Grandma Barnhart, me, my girlfriend Sherri; my older brother Duke and his first wife Cheryl, and  Grandma Morris

Of course, I learned soon enough that early success wasn’t in the cards. I flip-flopped between jobs that first year after high school before I enrolled at college, only to drop out after my first year and return to my full-time job in lumber & hardware.

For some reason, that ‘Most Likely To’ really stayed with me. It may just as well been a sign around my neck, a constant reminder I hadn’t lived up to others (or my own) expectations. I can still remember coming to work one Monday morning in May 1985, and seeing the local paper in the employee lounge, opened up to Waynesburg College Commencement on Sunday and thinking “That was my class…if I hadn’t dropped out I’d be a college graduate today.  I should’ve been a part of that.” 

Once again, that success label from high school dragged behind me like an anchor.  A year later I ran into an old classmate who was in her final year of nursing, and when she asked me what I was up to, I immediately felt guilty and defensive and said “I’m going back to school in a couple months, in Pittsburgh!”  She was nice enough, and said that was great, good luck.  But as we parted company I could imagine her thinking “Most likely to succeed—yeah right!”

You know, because everyone remembers those senior personalities, and who was voted for what, right?  Haha…

Anyway—I did return to school, got into the IT field and somehow wound up with some good positions with some good companies—Omega, GNC, Mellon, UPMC. I knew I was far from the leader of the pack on the success-scale when it came to others in my high school class, but I was living in the big city now, wore a suit to work everyday, carried a briefcase even.  Me and ‘Most Likely To Succeed’ were square.

My older brother Duke was also voted Most Likely to Succeed by his senior class a couple years earlier. He went on to become an attorney, but did not succeed in his plans for world domination—sorry, Duke!

I’m sharing all this now, because here I am, 35 years later and being reminded of that old sting. It’s been 4 1/2 months since I walked away from a good paying job (which was giving me some serious stress) and now I’m playing with different monthly budgets to ensure my investments will provide me with a roof over my head for the next 25-30 years. If I’m careful, it seems doable—but does getting out of the rat race a dozen years earlier equate to success? 

A couple days ago when I was talking to my friend Kathy, and joking about being a free spirit now, I said “I have zero debt, I come and go as I please, eat and sleep when I want, where I want.  I no longer have a boss, project manager, or a team-lead telling me what to do.”  Well, it sounded good…

So I’m never going to own a yacht or a villa in France, but if I can keep things going the way they are now, will I feel I’ve accomplished something?  This is still up for debate.

Oh and for the record—my other half in that senior personality photo, my friend & classmate Karen. She’s a wife, mom & has been an elementary school teacher for 30 years now, and is just as passionate about teaching as she was then.  If that’s not real success, then I don’t know what is.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

General Tso’s chicken in a bag: well, there’s a first time for everything



Last week at the market, I took a peek in the ‘Frozen Foods Chest’ (an open-top floor freezer of odds n’ ends) and saw a selection of  “Gourmet Dining Meals”.  Blecch!  I normally hate skillet meals and avoid ‘em like the plague—they’re overpriced and gross. 

But these got my interest as they were Asian Cuisine, 28 oz in size and only $3.99 each.  Orange chicken?  Shrimp fried rice?  General Tso’s chicken?   I’ve had a real hankering for some Chinese food lately, especially since quitting my job downtown where Chinese was almost a weekly lunch thing.

Still… not a fan of skillet meals.  So I decided to wait until I got home and google some reviews.  (There’s always some food shopper critic out there who’s ready to tell it like it is.)   So imagine my surprise when I got home, searched the label, and aside from this page of their products (click here)  I couldn’t find a single review.   I WAS ON MY OWN.

So earlier today when I went food-shopping again, I shrugged my shoulders and threw a bag in the cart.  I thought I’d do a running commentary as I cook it up!

My Review:  Gourmet Dining Meals’ General Tso’s Chicken


Ingredients in bag:

Small package of white chicken bits (it’s pretty spare)

Larger package of rice & vegetables, frozen rock solid

Pack of frozen ‘Gourmet Chili Garlic Sauce’

1. Here’s the UNOPENED frozen sauce packet I immersed in a measuring cup of hot water to warm.  The instructions warn not to microwave!  Just drop it in that water and let it thaw.


2.  The precooked chicken nibbles, added a tablespoon of oil to a large skillet and  sauté for about 3-4 minutes. 


3.  Adding in the frozen rice & vegetables.  This stuff was hard as a rock, I had to hammer on it a few times and STILL had a snowball-sized chunk in the pan.  The instructions say to add a tablespoon of water, but I’m a rebel and used 2.  COVER & let it cook on LOW heat for 8 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes.


4.  Here’s how it looks after 8-9 minutes.  A nice surprise, the rice plumped up really nicely and the vegetables are tender but not mushy.  It smells good enough to eat now!


5.  Time to snip a corner off that warmed sauce packet, and drizzle it over things.  I did it in a nice swirly pattern just for show.  Stir it up a bit, COVER & let it heat thru for 1-2 minutes. 


6.  TA-DA!!  It’s ready to eat.  I must confess when I removed the lid & the aroma hit me, I ate a couple forkfuls right outta the pan.  This may not be downtown Chinese, but it comes close.  THIS IS GOOD STUFF.


A little more chicken would’ve been nice, but there’s so much food here, I didn’t miss it.  The chicken, rice & vegetables are just right, and the sauce is excellent.  Will I buy this again?  You bet!

FYI—this isn’t an April Fools joke.  My sister Shawn asked me if I planned to review toaster strudel next!  I’m a single man who’s not exactly a great cook, so (for me, at least) this was a nice surprise.  And you can’t beat that price, $3.99!