The Case of the Dirty Cake Knife

Once upon a time a group of engineers lived in a large space divided into little boxes and devoid of any windows. The engineers were basically happy. They all worked on different projects under different supervisors but were united as one big happy family under the same kind and attentive manager.

The engineers enjoyed the company of an incredible administrative assistant, who occupied one of the little boxes. She helped them with expense reports and labor corrections and equipment requests and a myriad of other things. One of her unofficial duties was the planning and execution of Snack Days.

Snack Days were glorious occasions where everyone would bring food from home to share. The admin would orchestrate the whole thing including arranging everyone’s stuff into sensible groupings, stowing food away in the fridge or trashing it at the end of the day, and cleaning up the common serving utensils that had built up over time and were stored in her cubicle.

One day, life came crashing down around the ears of all the happy little engineers. Their distant overlords disrupted their daily lives by splitting up the family. They all still worked in the same space on the same projects, but no longer for the same manager. They all got new ones – three news ones, actually. Each little cluster of people with a new boss. And the beloved admin was assigned to yet a fourth one.

Since she was no longer responsible for anyone in the space, she soon moved out. The utensils moved to a credenza in one of the walkways. And since the admins now responsible for the people in that space were already cozy in their existing spaces next to their managers, none of them moved in. The engineers were adrift.

Eventually, they developed a plan for snack days. They agreed that each team would sponsor a snack-day-worthy holiday. The scrum masters for those teams would do the coordination, but the team members were responsible as a group for setup and clean up. The engineers had failed to consider certain edge conditions, however.

You have to understand, these are people who, when someone brings random food and sets it out on the front table to share, often leave the empty container when they take the last item, instead of throwing it away. These are the same people who tended to assume someone would take care of the leavings of their snack day offerings. They barely pick up after themselves and have little motivation to clean up after others.

Which brings us to the dirty cake knife. A couple of the teams who still worked for a common supervisor had an end-of-year party in December. The supervisor had it catered and also bought a cake from Costco, which is way more cake than even a group of hungry engineers can polish off after a catered meal.

Someone brought the cake into the work space along with the spatula and knife that had been used in its serving. No one thought to move it to the refrigerator at the end of the day. Eventually, the next day, someone decided it probably was not safe to eat and balanced it on top of a trashcan. The janitor got the hint and took it away. The cake-encrusted spatula and knife were set down in an empty cubicle near that trash can.

And that was it.

No one was responsible for cleaning the utensils. No one even seemed to notice them, tucked away in the empty cubicle at the end of a row. Whoever set them there either forgot about them, hoped someone else would step up, or fell victim to a serious bout of “not my job”-itis. Regardless, the utensils sat. And sat. And sat.

The engineer who occupied the office across from the cubicle had been absent the day of the cake eating. When she returned was the day the cake rested on the trashcan. She had no idea how long it had been there. She didn’t notice the utensils until some  number of days later.

And true to her profession, when she finally noticed them, she thought, “Well, I wasn’t here to enjoy the cake. I’m not going to clean them. Someone who actually got to eat some cake can clean up after themselves.”

And with that, she went about her job and forgot all about the dirty utensils – just like everyone else.

Except she kept rediscovering them. Eventually, she started thinking about taking them down the long hallway to the break room at the other end of the building, which was the closest location of a sink. She thought about it, but figured they’d have to soak. And for how long? She needed to check her email again.

And then she’d forget. Again. And then rediscover and think about taking them to soak. But it was time for her daily stand-up meeting. Maybe after. And then the next time she remembered, maybe on the way out at the end of the day. There was always a reason that “now” was not a good time. And, really, it wasn’t her responsibility. After all, she’d just be doing someone else a favor.

One day, she heard another engineer discover the dirty knife and spatula. “Who do these belong to?!” the engineer exclaimed.

The first engineer hurried out of her office and explained.

“Well, should we just throw them away?” asked the recent discoverer.

“No!” the forgetful one said, shocked. “They are a perfectly good spatula and knife. They just need to be cleaned.”

“Well, obviously no one cares enough to clean them,” replied the second, holding them with every intent to just throw them away.

“But it’s the only knife we have,” tried the first. “We won’t have a knife the next time someone brings a cake in.”

“Oh,” replied the second, now understanding. “I assumed the boss had brought his own spatula and knife.” This engineer was a relatively new resident to the space.

“No, we’ve got a small stash of spatulas and serving spoons and that one knife. I mean, I guess I could see if there’s another knife, but it seems like a shame to throw this one away.”

“I agree,” the other responded. She looked around awkwardly like she was unsure what to do with the knife now that she had decided not to trash it. “I guess…” she hesitated… “I guess one of us should clean it… but…” she set it back down in the cubicle. “I’ll have to maybe do it later. I’m running late to a meeting.”

The forgetful engineer sighed at the lost opportunity for someone else to clean the knife. And then she returned to her office. She had stories to write for the next sprint, after all. Maybe she’d take the utensils down to soak later. She could leave a note explaining that they were the collective problem of the entire work area and that anyone who saw the items soaking could pick them up out of the soapy water, scrub them clean, and return them to their credenza. But she forgot later.

And then one day she heard the banging of credenza doors opening and closing, drawers sliding open and shut. And a voice asking no one in particular, “does anyone know where a knife is?”

“You need a knife?” she asked with a smile as she exited her office.

“I do!” he responded. “I went to Baton Rouge this weekend and it’s the season. I brought back a King Cake.”

She led him to the empty cubicle. A cubicle, incidentally, that was adjacent to his own.

“There’s our cake knife,” she said, pointing into the cube.

“Oh.” he responded. “Oh.”

“That’s from when you guys had cake without me at the group party last month. It would only make sense for someone who actually ate some of the cake to clean it.”

“Whoa, wait. That’s from that cake?!”



“Yes. I was going to take it down to the break room and soak it but it was never a good time when I thought about it. So it just sat there.”

“Ok…I guess I’ll… go clean the knife.”

“Excellent!” the first engineer said, relieved of the responsibility but a little embarrassed to demonstrate that she had known about, but not dealt with, the knife and spatula.

The spatula was soon clean and resting in the credenza with the other serving utensils. The knife took up residence on the front table with the boxed King cake and a stack of napkins. It was covered in almost as much cake debris as it had been mere moments before. Except now it sat alone.

How long will it sit unclean? Until another cake arrives? Will it ever rejoin its mates in the credenza drawer? Will some engineer, maybe the bringer of the King cake, actually clean it as soon as the cake is gone? Only time will tell.

How Flat is Flat?

Daryl (yes, we are going to talk about Daryl again) was late coming home from Destination Imagination practice Saturday. I didn’t think too much about it until our friends showed up to play Charterstone, which is a really fun legacy board game (legacy means the rules change and the story builds each time you play). It’s a big deal and we always have a blast.

Practice was over at 12:30 and it was now almost 3:00, so I gave him a call. He was at a store with his friend Jerry. We talked for a minute and he selected 5:00 as the time that he would either be home or call me to check in.

Sometime shortly before 5:00, his truck rolled into the driveway. To my surprise, Jerry was sitting next to him. Ok, I thought. I guess he’s ok with his friend seeing this ‘nerdfest’ we have going on…

Only, they didn’t come in the house. The poor dog was going nuts with anticipation. I asked the people who could see out the window what they were doing. “They’re walking around the truck looking at it” was what I got back.

I’d finally had enough of the dog so I walked to the front door to let her out. The boys were not visible at all; but when she streaked across the driveway and around the truck, Daryl’s head popped up in surprise. I had already shut the front door so he was looking around like he couldn’t figure out where she had come from.

It looked like they were checking out the front passenger-side tire. I wondered why they weren’t coming in for help, but figured they eventually would. I sat back down at the game and when he later tried to quickly let the dog back in without coming in himself, I called out to him. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“Nothing. I just need to take Jerry home.”

“You aren’t going to come in and say hi?”

“No, we’re running late. We gotta go!”

“What were you doing with your tire?”

“Oh, I just needed to put some air in it.”

“Did you use a tire gauge?” my husband asked at the same time I said, “You know every gas station in town has an air pump, right?”

No, he didn’t know that he could have stopped at a gas station instead of driving out of town to our house. And, no, he didn’t have a tire gauge. He seemed flustered that he had driven home when he didn’t have to, although he soon showed that he really did, actually, need to come home. As he had no clue how much air was enough.

One of our friends stopped pouring his beer to go get Daryl one of the several tire gauges in his car. I asked Daryl if he knew how to use it. He claimed he didn’t need to use it because, and I quote, “we pushed on the tire – it’s good.”

With that, I followed him out to the truck and his waiting friend – much to his embarrassment, I’m assuming, since he asked me why I was wearing my Christmas leggings on our way out there. When I got to the truck, I showed him how to read the appropriate tire pressure inside his driver’s door. I then walked around to the passenger side, where I could see the tire sagging appreciably on the driveway.

“Daryl! There is not enough air in that tire – just look at it!”

What ensued next was some typical teenage back-and-forth on which boy had claimed what while they had tried to use the air compressor on the tire. There was so little air in it that the tire gauge didn’t actually budge. Daryl still tried to tell me it was fine.

I told him that if he drove off on that tire, there would be six very unhappy adults in there that would have to stop playing their game while his dad came to walk him through changing his tire on the side of the road. “Do. Not. Drive off, unless you can get it to 35psi.”

With that, I went back inside. My husband asked if I had checked the tire for damage. I said, “No. You should go do that. Being the tire guy and everything.”

With great reluctance, he did, and then returned soon after to inform me there was a nail and Daryl would be taking our other truck in order to get Jerry home. About then, I saw the truck go tearing off the property like a bat outta hell.

“Daryl! Don’t drive that fast! What do you think you’re doing?”

“You know he can’t hear you, right?” everyone asked.

“He drives like that all the time,” my husband said.

“Not while I’m with him!” I said, which my husband answered with a don’t-be-so-stupid patronizing look.

Why are our kids so good at pointing out all the things we’ve failed to teach them yet? I hadn’t thought about what Daryl would do if he got a flat tire. I hadn’t thought to share with him the neighbor’s caution to his older sister about driving fast down our road. I hadn’t told him that common courtesy involved bringing his guest into the house to say hello to us.

There’s just so much to teach. And no matter how hard you try, you’ll never get it all. You just have to hope that some combination of luck, common sense, and maybe the intervention of others with make up the difference.


Puddle Jumping

Let’s just stick with the teenage boy for another post. I came home from choir practice the other day and he was sitting at the table doing homework. He was calling out questions to his dad and asking Siri about socialism and communism and suffrage. I was surprised. I don’t catch him doing homework very often.

I passed through the room and walked down the hall through our bedroom to the master bath. Once there, I settled on “the throne” for a bit of quiet me time. It wasn’t quiet for long. He came into the room wanting to show me something on his phone.

It was a Snapchat video of a bunch of football players. They were running and then leaping or sliding into huge puddles of water. It’s been raining a fair amount around here lately. And it’s cold. Ok, not northern-states cold, but cold for Texas. Hovering around freezing at night and not getting out of the forties or low fifties during the day.

He was naming each of the boys as they came into view and threw themselves into the mud. “And here’s ME!!! BOY!!!” he exclaimed just as I saw his lean frame make a smooth slide through the puddle. He finished naming the boys before pulling his phone back.

“There was that puddle and then another bigger one over there. We were all doing it. Even Big Mo and {honestly, I don’t remember the names…you get the idea}. It was fun!”

“You know who else likes to jump in puddles?” I asked.


“Four-year-olds. Four-year-olds like to jump in puddles.”

“It was fun!! But, man! It was cold. Like really, really cold.” He said that as if I would be unaware it was cold without his first-hand account.

“And it soaked my underwear and socks!” He gave a small laugh. “I didn’t know we were going to do that. I didn’t bring extra underwear and socks.” (They wear school-provided workout clothes during Athletics).

He stuck his foot out. “Man, I’m not wearing white socks anymore. Look at these!”

I soon heard him regaling his father with the same tale. He was very proud and very excited. I mean, he had to be. What 16-year-old boy wants to hang out with his mom while she’s using the bathroom?

Like I’ve said before, he can go days or weeks without having any substantive conversation with me at all. And then there’s days like this. I guess it’s the age, but it always, without fail, is about something stupid he’s done, a friend has done, or he’s heard. But it’s always fun. He’s living the good life.

A Truck In Sheep’s Clothing

“I’ve got some stuff that I want to get,” my teenage son said.

“Like what?” I asked, looking up from my laptop. He had a funny smile on his face and was fiddling with the door frame above his head.

“I wanna get some stuff for my truck,” he started, looking out the door toward where his truck was parked. “I want to get some floor coverings. Like some carpet.”

“Sheep skin,” my husband called from the other room. “He wants sheep skin floor mats.”

“What?” I asked.

“Yeaaahhhh…. that would be SO cool, dude!” my son said.

“You want sheep skin floor mats?” I clarified. “On the floor of your truck. Where your feet go.”

“Yeah! Think about it! It would be awesome!”

“I’m already writing one blog post about you. You’re going to go give me another?”

He didn’t respond but kept enthusing about the sheep skin floor mats.

“They are going to get dirty!” I tried.

“No, man. I know how to keep them clean! Like my shoes.”

“Oh, so you are going to stop driving the truck, is that it?”

“I wear those shoes all the time!” (side note: No. He doesn’t. He doesn’t want to risk creasing them.)

He continued as he looked at the ceiling and ran his fingers along the wall: “And I want to get LED rope lights.”

“Inside your truck?!”

“No! In my room. I’m talking about my room now. It’s gonna look good with those lights….But the sheep skin, mom!”

“How are you going to keep the sheep skin clean?” I asked.

“I’ll take my shoes off. Can you imagine how great that would feel? Your left foot just resting on that?”

“And what about when it’s raining? You gonna just stand outside in the rain and take your shoes off before you climb in?”

“Or I can sit down and take them off first.”

“With all the rain pouring in? Everything will be soaked!”

“I’ll put a rain cover on it.”

“A rain cover.” I deadpanned.

“Yeah! Dude. I’ll watch the weather and put a rain cover on if it’s supposed to rain.”

“On the floor mats.”

“Yes! They don’t have to be all fluffy and thick. They can just be carpet. Lots of people have carpet in their cars.”

“You said sheep skin. That’s thick and fluffy.”

“I know! My truck’s going to be awesome. Get those floor mats and get the radio installed. Dude.”

Chalk this up as another conversation that I never, ever imagined having. With anyone. As my mother-in-law would say, it’s a good thing he’s cute.

Taste Buds

“Did you know you have taste buds on your ball sac?” my son asked…me. Yes, he asked me. Directly.

“No, actually. I know for a fact that I don’t have any taste buds on my ball sac. Since I don’t have a ball sac. Being a girl and all.”

“No, that’s not what I mean. You know. There’s taste buds on ball sacs. It’s science.”

“Where did you see this? Snapchat?”

“No, an Instagram page,” my husband countered.

“No, for real. It’s science. You can look it up.”

“You did not learn about this in your Chemistry class,” I said patiently.


“Then where?”

“It’s true. I think you can taste like soy sauce and orange juice man!”

“So what are you going to do? Stick your balls in a bowl of orange juice and see if you can taste it?” I asked.

“Nah, man. I’m not going to do it. But I’m just sayin’. Just look it up.”

So, with considerable misgivings, I picked up my phone. Opened Google. And began to type:

t-a-s-t-e- -b-u-d-s-

And then I noticed the suggested completions.

“‘Taste buds on balls’ is the second suggestion?” I asked incredulously.

“It’s trending right now,” my husband said.

And he was right. The article I opened was dated just four days earlier and acknowledged that the internet was suddenly fascinated with a study published in 2013 that stated two protein receptors allow certain tastes to be recognized in cells throughout the body, including – you got it – testes. Apparently, they are critical for fertility.

I then read to him: “But whether or not these taste receptors create…typical taste is another question. Indeed having tested the theory, many Internet users are disputing that any taste sensation occurs.”

“Great,” I said. “That means there are plenty of other guys out there sticking their balls in orange juice.”

“And soy sauce,” he said.

I sighed. I know I mentioned in a recent post that I treasure conversations with my 16-year-old son, but times like this… Oh, who am I kidding? I still love it. I just kind of wonder about him while we are talking.

Where’s My Phone?

Ever lost your phone? I know you have. We all have. It’s usually baffling and sometimes funny. Like the time you are talking on the phone to someone and the conversation leads you to want to Google something so you start searching for your phone and eventually exclaim to the person on the other end that you can’t find your phone!

On a recent Sunday morning, my husband and I were preparing for church at different speeds. He had to be there early to open and I was baking something for potluck so was going to come along later. As such, I came through the bedroom still in my pajamas and reading an article on my phone as he put the finishing touches on his outfit: mismatched socks, shoes, and a spiffy leather vest. He’s unique.

Anyway, I sat down on the bed to tell him about the article and then set the phone on the foot of the bed and started pulling all the sheets and blankets into place to make it. When I was partially done, I scanned the bed for my phone.

“Where’s my phone?” I asked as I lifted the one pillow still resting at the foot. He looked around the bed confused.

Thinking I had accidentally made the bed with the phone inside the bedding instead of on top, I spread my hands out across the bed, feeling for the familiar little box shape. Nothing. We were both flummoxed.

Before I had a chance to even ask him to call my phone, he reached to his nightstand to pick up his phone to do so. But then he stopped.

And I shall stop too for just a moment to let you know something. We happen to have the same phone. His is in a big textured, blocky, black Otterbox while mine is in a slim, smooth, off-white case with a picture from A League of their Own on the back. They are not easily mistaken for each other. Ok, back to the story.

“Hey,” he said, reaching into the interior breast pocket of his vest, “why don’t you take your phone and I’ll take mine instead?”

With that, he pulled my phone out of his vest and handed it to me.

Calling Mom

We were eating dinner at a local fast food establishment recently. A family of five has unique challenges at fast food restaurants since the tables tend to be bolted to the floor and arranged for groups of 2-4.

This particular location is even worse because the choices are small booths or round tables that tightly fit four. The round tables are impossible for five people. They do happen to not be bolted to the floor, allowing them to be moved side-by-side. But have you ever tried to group around, essentially, the infinity symbol? Or two-thirds of a snowman? It doesn’t work particularly well.

Our usual choice is to add a chair from one of the round tables to the end of a booth. Once the four booth sitters are in, the chair sitter can squeeze in at the end. No one ever wants the chair which means it’s usually me sitting there. As a result, I’m usually trying to figure out where to place my purse.

One time, I chose to put my purse on the table against the wall, directly across the length of the table from me. My phone was in my purse and still on “silent” from our time at church.

As we ate, Hal kept looking at me and grinning expectantly. I returned the look quizzically. He’d fumble around under the table and grin at me again. I decided to ignore him.

Finally, he asked, “Mom, where’s your phone?”

“It’s in my purse in front of you, why?”

He glanced at my purse and looked confused. About then, we all heard a distinctive voice say, “Hello? Hello?”

It was my mother-in law. Speaking from my husband’s smart watch strapped to Hal’s wrist. And then all the pieces fell into place.

Hal had his dad’s watch, from which he could make calls for the phone still in his dad’s pocket. He had thought it’d be funny to call me. Probably hoped it would confuse me since my husband, sitting next to me, was clearly not making a phone call.

I was not confused, but he sure was! It was an easy mistake for an eleven-year-old to make. A man does not store his wife’s number under the name “Mom.” If you call “Mom,” you are going to get, well, his mom – not yours. Which is exactly what happened.

Poor kid went from playing a prank on mom to talking to grandma on the phone while mom and dad and siblings laughed.