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Community Connection: Lynette Howard
Gwinnett planning commissioner loves cooking up stuff

Lynette Howard is a member of the Gwinnett County planning commission and the past president of the United Peachtree Corners Civic Association. She worked as a research chemist for seven years before becoming a preschool teacher.

Howard and her husband, Pat, have two children - Alex, 10, and Nathalie, 12. In this installment of "Community Connections," staff writer Arielle Kass caught up with Howard Dec. 26, while her children were playing with the Wii Santa brought them for Christmas.

Here, she talks about the first thing she baked, the car wash chemicals she invented and why her family has hiked more than 20 waterfalls.

AK: So you said you enjoy baking.

LH: LOVE baking.

AK: What do you like to bake, what desserts?

LH: Oh, I have a whole list of them. Pumpkin cheesecake, regular cheesecake, lemon meringue pies, fudge cake, milk chocolate cake.

AK: So you do fancy stuff. You don't just do chocolate chip cookies.

LH: I don't do cookies. I do cakes.

AK: Why baking?

LH: Because people love it. They're just so happy when they eat it. I just love it when they're happy.

AK: So it's a little personal, too. Have you thought about putting a cookbook together?

LH: I actually have. As I collect them, I'm starting to put them online - I mean, not online, but on the computer, word processing. And so I print them out and have them in a binder.

AK: Do you have any childhood memories associated with baking that make it something you started to do?

LH: Oh yeah. I mean, my mom taught me how to bake when I was really little. She would have dinner parties - she was a fabulous cook - and she would say, 'OK, here's a cookbook, pick out a dessert and see if you can fix it.' And I always fixed it first for the family because we didn't want to experiment on the guests. And so I would make a dessert, then I would get to make it for a dinner party, and I've been doing it since I was like eight or nine. And so it was just a big deal, it was so important.

AK: Do you remember what the first thing you made was?

LH: I do. (Chuckles). It was a chocolate pudding cake. I think it was Betty Crocker's cookbook. And so I made that and it was pretty good.

AK: Do you still make it?

LH: I've never made it again. (Laughs).

AK: What did you do (for the Puritan Chemical Company)?

LH: I would put different raw materials together and formulate disinfectants, floor cleaners, floor sealers. Things like that. For hospitals, for Disney World, for car washes.

AK: Do you associate the chemicals with the baking at all, in terms of combining things and seeing what happens?

LH: Sure. Baking and cooking, because I do cooking, that helped me a lot in my formulating, actually. Helped me with different emulsion-type things.

AK: Is there anything that you came up with that people would recognize? Or anything that you're particularly proud of?

LH: At the time, I came up with a whole car wash line, and we had never done car wash products. I came up with all the different solutions, there's like a total of about 10 different solutions, about five main ones to go into a car wash. I came up with those. And they'd mostly been formulated by guys and since I was a girl and perfume, color was a big deal, I started doing really strong cinnamon smells, really strong colors that wouldn't stain the car, but it would be, like, pink, and you would smell the cinnamon. Or the blue, and you would smell - not florally, but something different kind of smell. For each one of them. I was kind of proud of it, and won a pretty big account for the company.

AK: What do you guys like to do for fun, what do you do as a family?

LH: Last year was our year of waterfalls. Actually, last year or the year before, we decided as a family New Year's Day we would go find a waterfall in Georgia and hike it. And it was great. Because the way we found some really cool ones was going online and looking at different photographers. And they would say how they got to the waterfall that they had taken a picture of. So we followed their cool directions, they were like, 'Go down this road and you'll see a house and just past it, you'll see a road.' And a lot of times, we'd go down these dirt roads and we'd be like, 'Are we sure we're gonna find it?' We came up with these beautiful, beautiful waterfalls, so we hike them and it's just been wonderful.

AK: And where did the idea come from? Why waterfalls?

LH: I don't know. We always try to have a theme every year. And so that was one of them. This past year, the theme was - we had planned a trip out West. And so the day school was out in May, we got in the car and the kids had their notebooks, they had to do research, and they had to do - for every state that we were going to, they had to get the governor, the capital and the population. And they couldn't go on the trip until they had that information. And we had it all set up and then we took off. And we drove all the way out to California and back. Had the best time.

AK: What other themes have you guys had?

LH: We've read books, we had a year where we had game nights. And we would try to do, every Friday night have games that we would play. And we still try to do it, but it gets kind of busy. Whenever we have a fire, at night, we always pull out the games and the family just sits at the table.

... One of the themes was going to children's museums, and we had done that when they were little, and then as they got a little bit older, it was going to science museums. And so we've taken trips all the way up to Canada going to every single science museum, all the way up. It was lots of fun.

AK: Are they science kids?

LH: They're both into science because science is so much fun. And I just try to promote that to all kids, that science is something that's fun. 'Cuz their parents are like, 'Oh, I don't like science, I don't like math.' That's how I started teaching preschool is 'cuz my kids graduated from preschool and the director's like, 'Well, would you like to be a teacher here?' And I was like, 'Well, what would you like me to do?' She thought I could teach music. And I was like, 'Oh, you know I play the piano very badly, but I just don't think that would be that good.' And she was like, 'What else could we do?' And I was like, 'Well, how about science?' And she was like, 'Science? In preschool?' And I was like, 'Oh yeah. I can do it. I got the whole thing.' And I taught them a biology, chemistry and physics experiment every week. And so I did that for five years, and then the pre-k teacher went and started teaching in public school, elementary school, and so I stepped in and took her place.

AK: Are you guys a big Christmas family? What do you do for Christmas, do you have any traditions?

LH: Just actually have all of our family and it's a big deal and the kids wake up and tons of pictures and everyone's surprised and all the different things that Santa does.

AK: What does Santa do?

LH: Santa - he's usually very messy with the fire. We never have a fire Christmas Eve. We always have it set up ready to have a fire, but you can't roast Santa when he's coming down the chimney.

AK: No, that would be very inconsiderate. All the other kids might be very upset with you.

LH: And so we always bake cookies that night and have a big platter for Santa and write Santa a little note and wish him good luck for all his travels during the night, and we also make sure we feed the reindeer.

AK: What do the reindeer eat?

LH: The reindeer usually eat lettuce and carrots. We make sure we have little mini-carrots.

AK: So they can swallow them.

LH: Eat fast.