Meet the Suburban Commandos

ImageThat’s what I call this group of people who I met almost 20 years ago when I became involved in a grassroots effort to save a community green space. Although we faced incredible odds, today that land is a Harris County Precinct 4 park.

 Over the past 18 years, we successfully protested the land sale, formed a nonprofit 501(c)3 to raise money to help build the park, held numerous fundraisers – from a spaghetti supper to a community fun run – and met monthly for more than 15 years to work with Harris County Precinct 4, and Commissioner Jerry Eversole to plan the park, raise money for a barrier-free playground with Be An Angel and work with the Norchester Garden Club to establish a butterfly garden. It was a true labor of love.

We recently met at the park site to celebrate a commemorative plaque donated by director Martin Heemer that shares the park’s history. I’m proud to have served on the board with these dedicated citizens. Here’s a video that captures the day.

They Believe!

This is one of my favorite photos of all time.

I took it 23 years ago while covering the Schlumberger Family Christmas Party. I was the freelance newsletter editor at the time and was there to take pictures for the employee publication Newsline. The company put on a great family event, so I took my sons Thomas, 6, and Patrick, 3, along for the ride.

On the way to the company headquarters on I-45 near the University of Houston, I overheard Thomas tell his little brother, “Now this is not going to be the real Santa.” Knowing how the employee who played Santa each year looked perfect for the part, I told them that yes, indeed, Schlumberger always had the real Santa.

I love the twinkle in their eyes. Can you tell they believe?

Here they are 23 years later celebrating the holiday with their grandmother, uncle and little brother Byron in Jefferson on Christmas Eve Eve 2011.

Merry Christmas everyone!  May you always believe in the joy and wonder of the miracle at Christmas!

The Town that Beer Built

I just got back from a great weekend in Shiner, Texas. My long-time colleague and dear friend Theresa Parker sponsored a weekend visit to the little town that beer built. She founded two years ago to promote Texas polka music and heritage in honor of her late father, Willie Cernoch. He called polka music his happy music, and by the smiles on the faces of the people who spent the weekend in Czech country, he was right! It’s hard not to smile when you’re listening to a polka!

Our first event of the weekend was a tour of the Shiner Brewery. Unfortunately, they don’t allow cameras inside for the brewery tour, but you can check out the fun we had before and after in this video.

Some interesting facts about the brewery:

  • Only 90 employees make all that Shiner beer you see in grocery stores!
  • Shiner Blonde sold today was the original Shiner recipe made by Kosmos Spoetzel in 1909.
  • Some of Shiner’s seasonal beers are only available in Shiner Family Packs.
  • Before being put in bottles or kegs, Shiner beer is aged for at least 30 days in storage tanks.
  • The brewery bottles 15,000 cases per day. An impressive automated bottling line fills 625 bottles per minute. The crew then cleans the equipment before bottling another type of beer.
  • The current brew master has been with the brewery for more than 30 years and promises some new things in 2012, so stay tuned!

After the brewery tour, we drove to nearby Moulton and had dinner at Kloesel’s Steakhouse, while listening and dancing to the polka sounds of Chris Rybak, whose live recording of the Shiner Polka is featured in my video. (Chris will be performing December 10-11 at the German Christmas Market in Tomball.) Theresa’s son Will Seegers, who is a music composer and French horn player, picked up the miniature trumpet for the first time and jammed with the band. Willie Cernoch would have been so proud!

Watch for more on the weekend in upcoming posts, including a Night in Old Pearl City.  And for the Thanksgiving weekend, I just picked up a six pack of Shiner Holiday Cheer. I highly recommend it.  Cheers!


Race for the Cure

What can be better than a beautiful day with friends doing something for a great cause?

Team Torma joined 38,000 of our best friends in downtown Houston on Saturday, October 1, for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure® Houston.  The weather was perfect, the atmosphere was energizing and the crowds were pretty in pink!

Team Torma is a mix of family and fellow communications colleagues and friends. This year we raised more than $2,000. Having several team members who are breast cancer survivors drives home just how many people are impacted by breast cancer and why we walk or run for a cure.

Check out the video and plan to join us next year!


Camera. Action!

Storytelling’s my game. Words are my fame.  But now I’m trying something new and fun: video storytelling.

In the past three months, I’ve had several corporate clients express the desire for video components to their communications. Before my videographer friends freak, let me clarify. They don’t plan to replace their professional video companies for producing long-shelf-life projects, like an annual review, executive message or project profile. These are international companies that want to feature more employees in the field in their communications. Or, they want a video component to a short-shelf-life news story for their intranet. In many instances, they are sending Flip-type cameras to field locations and asking employees to tell their stories YouTube style.

So I’ve decided to learn the craft of video storytelling. I know the company message and I’m likely the one writing the story, so why not be the one to create a video story, too?

My first attempt was coverage of the IABC Houston chapter’s ESIG meeting. (For those of you not in the corporate communications world that stands for International Association of Business Communicators (iABC) Entrepreneurs Strategic Interest Group.) Whew!

As a subset of IABC, we are a group of independent writers, designers, PR experts, photographers, marketers and other communications entrepreneurs who meet monthly for professional development programs. I was on the task force that planned this particular program called Speed Dating for Entrepreneurs. The goal of the meeting was to let members go one-on-one to find out more about each others’ businesses, share portfolios and identify potential partners and resources to help build our businesses.

Here’s my video story of the event.

I used my Canon S95 point-and-shoot camera to capture the video and iMovie to put it into a story format.  At first, I used a fabulous recording of Getting to Know You by the 101 Strings Orchestra, but realized that was in copyright violation. So, I switched to this Garage Band version provided to me by former Houstonian Ben Shallenberger, who is the video production manager for the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C.  Thanks, Ben!

I plan to get better with my filming and production capabilities. Fellow communicator Karin Knapp and I attended a seminar at the Apple store on Friday to learn more about iMovie. We’re also going to a day-long video boot camp sponsored by Ragan Communications in Dallas in October.

But overall, I’m pleased with my first attempt. Let me know what you think!

Before and After

Ok, it’s been quite a while since I have blogged. Mainly for two reasons: 1) I always felt compelled to write a story like I do for my corporate clients – with a great lead, inverted-pyramid reporting and a fantastic ending paragraph or closing quote that sums everything up and 2) I ran out of things to say because I decided not to talk about politics and religion in my blog.

But now I’m back.  I realized the blogs I enjoy reading are personal and more conversational in tone, and include pictures. (A shout out to Rachel Blanton Cherry’s Happy Healthy Runner, Mary Wiggins’ MaryWig, Georgette Sullins’ blog and my sister Kathy Duvall’s Rock Cottage blog). And now I have something big to report that’s neither political or religious (although those topics are now fair game):  Our cabin renovations!

A little background: Five years ago, my husband got a bee in his bonnet to buy a lake house near Palestine. He found a little one-room place out in the boonies on a private lake called Lake Ioni (pronounced Eye-O-Ni). Before you become too impressed, let me just say now that it was one step above camping. But this was the view from the GREAT front porch, so I went along with it.

We had occasional cookouts there. Frank and Byron would “camp out” during the fall months and sometimes during the winter. (Did I mention there’s no heat in the cabin?)

Earlier this year, we decided to give the cabin a facelift: new roof, paint on the inside and outside, new electrical wiring. After staying at a beautiful farmhouse near LaGrange last spring, I got this bee in my own bonnet that I wanted a kitchen with the 1950s Youngstown metal cabinets and built-in farmhouse sink. My grandmother had something similar in her home. So I began searching the internet and found a website devoted to this type of kitchen cabinets.  But I eventually found the cabinets on eBay and had them shipped to Palestine from Kansas City, Missouri. That set things in motion for what i call our “Funky 50s Texas” decor. You’ll see what I mean as you scroll down.

After three months, the place is looking fabulous.  Here are some before and after pics:

Side view of cabin before and after:

Front view, before and after:

Porch before and after, featuring the wonderful metal glider and chairs I found on eBay from a seller in Alabama:

Another look at my great eBay finds.  Love the red and white!

Inside pics of cabin before and after:

Bathroom before and after:

Another before and after view:

Another view of the den:

View of bedroom area after:

Here is a closer look at the coup de gras–a 1950s refrigerator find from, where else, eBay! This was from a seller in Eastpointe,  Michigan who was clearing out the home of her grandmother, who passed away in January. The grandmother kept the 1950s Norge refrigerator upstairs in a guest kitchen and didn’t even have it plugged in. She was storing her purses in it!  It looks like it came off the showroom floor and even came with the original metal ice trays and an owner’s manual!

Love the graphics in this instruction manual:

A final pic of my ’50s-style kitchen. The yellow ’50s formica table was purchased at an antique store, Duncan Depot, in Palestine:


I guess you can tell by all these pics that I’m pleased with how things have come together.  There are a few things left to do. Brother-in-law #1, who owns an AC/Heating business, is going to install central heat and air this fall or winter when business slows a little. (A shout out for George Torma Heating and Air!)  We will also be installing a wall of antique doors to separate the bedroom.  We got the idea from this antique store:

Here are the doors we purchased at Pandora’s Box, an antique store in Frankston, to form the wall. We bought four, but will probably only need three.

And there’s still a little bit more accessorizing that needs to be done. But all in all, I love the place. I may even spend the night there every once in a while. Special thanks to my good friend and college roommate Linda Heard from Austin, who helped arrange furniture and hang pics. And of course, thanks to Frank for agreeing to my quirky pursuit of all things ’50s on eBay.

He’s happy before and after with the cabin:

Y’all come visit me again soon! I promise to write a little more frequently in the future.

Celebrating the Life of a Polka King

Even though I’m not Catholic, I want a polka Mass when I die.

I just got back from one of the most uplifting celebrations of life – the funeral of Mr. Willie Cernoch, the father of my dear friend and colleague, Theresa Parker. Mr. Cernoch passed away last week after never fully recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident the week after Easter. His funeral was a polka mass, in which the music and congregational responses are all sung to the ump-pa-pa of a polka band, complete with accordion player. Mr. Cernoch always said it was hard to be sad when listening to polka music, and he was right. (For more about this wonderful husband, father and polka king, read Theresa’s Father’s Day tribute to him in the blogpost below.)

 About 40 of his fellow members of the Polka Lovers Klub of America were there in their red and white polka dancing outfits singing polka songs during the service. I feel so fortunate to have met and danced with many of them last October when Torma Communications and 2d Design Collaborative celebrated our 25th anniversaries. When Ellen Custer, the owner of 2d Design, and I decided to have an Oktoberfest, it helped that we had Theresa on our planning team to suggest not only a great dance hall in the Heights, but also to arrange to have her father’s polka club there to liven things up. That group of 70- and 80-somethings put us Baby Boomers to shame with their spirit and stamina!

The most touching part of Mr. Cernoch’s funeral service for me was at the end when it was time for the family’s procession from the sanctuary. The Polka Klub members lined the aisle of the church and sang choruses of “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, deep in my heart”  as Mr. Cernoch’s casket passed by, followed by his family. Even though I know their hearts were breaking to lose a good friend and fellow dancer, they still could celebrate a wonderful life with joy in their voices and a suppressed swing in their step.

Rest in peace, Mr. Cernoch. You will be missed.

Mr. Cernoch (front row, third from left, wearing crown) and his beloved Polka Klub of America.

Mr. Cernoch (front row, third from left, wearing crown) and his beloved Polka Klub of America.