Temporal Relativity

Otherwise entitled: I Keep Forgetting What Day it Is.

Driving home through unusually light traffic tonight I realized, halfway home, that tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  For someone who works for a retail company centered around food, this is not how it should be. I should have, beating in my heart and tattooed on the inside of my eyeballs, every food-based holiday and a countdown to it. Instead I was one of the many last-minute shoppers at my local grocery store, which amazingly had all of the ingredients to make two pies, homemade cranberry sauce, and a gorgonzola-broccoli recipe I stole from my friend Cynful about five years ago.

My parents have the “Now What Day Is It Again?” syndrome but for drastically different reasons: the parents are retired. “Weekends” have no meaning if you  don’t work during the “week”. My day-of-week forgetfulness comes from “I am going to survive this day” combined with a bit of work each weekend.

My kitchen was demolished on 30 September. The job to remodel it was to be completed 6 November, with a schedule that had a ton of spare space in it. As of today, my fridge is still in my garage, all of my kitchen gear is in boxes, I can’t park in my garage because of said fridge and other kitchen-cabinet boxes, and we are looking at “another week or so” of work. Most people can forgive any amount of stress or craziness at work to go to the solace that is their home, I do not have that solace. I go home to disorder and disruption, which for me is unnerving and quite possibly a form of slow torture. The best way to make a control freak cringe is to take absolutely everything away from their control and tell them there’s no way to get it back.

I will take the frenetic panic of working through the massive consumer glut that is the holiday season, and yes I too have a couple of wish lists out there; I will take the increasing tempo of schoolwork for the boychild, I will take the slow creep of the scale that necessitates increased workouts, I will take the eternal guilt I get at this season for not being able to do more, to provide more, to be more.

It’s just another week until I get my kitchen back.

200 Square Feet

200 Square Feet is the size of the room I, the male person, the boy child, and the bulimikitty have lived in these past 3 days. It represents one bedroom, one bathroom, one kitchenette, and one livingroom/kids’ room. It has not been harmonious joy. Surprisingly, not because of the humans.

Look, I’m a little difficult when it comes to large-scale change in my life, and I need a certain sense of order and organization to function; living in a hotel room with other people at any length while trying to have a “normal” day — functioning as mom, functioning as worker-bee, functioning as human — is difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to have a dishwasher again.

No, my issue is with the cat. The cat who meows loudly. Every 10 minutes. From 10pm to 6am. Don’t worry folks, she’s here all week. The last two nights have been a repetitive round of “MEOW! MEOW! MEOW!” followed by harsh, hasty whispers by the male person to “Stop That!”.  Each morning the alarm beckons at 5am and I freely admit, only one of those mornings did I actually get up to work out.

I’ve rediscovered the joys of cooking on an electric range (the old-fashioned sort), as well as having a Real Dishwasher. The past five weeks have consisted of doing dishes in our bathtub. It has caused me to start checking my left wrist again, as for ten years there was a Seiko there that had to be carefully removed before doing dishes by hand in the first, and second, apartments I had whilst wearing it. That was more than ten years ago.

Tomorrow is Halloween, what was once my favorite holiday; on that day I get to go “home” but it still won’t quite be home as I still won’t have things back where they belong. My study and library are full of boxes, the dining room table is in the livingroom. The boy will be at his father’s house, having an Epic Halloween! I’m sure, and we will receive our usual two new people who don’t realize that our street, as busy and uphill as it is, is not as fun or lucrative to Trick-or-Treat on as the one just two blocks up. It’s the same story for Halloween at this house, one I’ve lived in, on and off, for the better part of 26 years. The house is larger than 200 square feet, for which I am newly, appreciatively grateful.

40 Hours

In 40 hours in New York, specifically Manhattan, I:

  • lost a favorite sweater, but comforted myself that I had had it for 3 years and probably got my money’s worth
  • ate two fantastic dinners, ate entirely too much, drank entirely too much, did not get hung over
  • tried a new app, Uber, which I was impressed with via friends’ use and then via my own
  • saw a Broadway show (Kinky Boots, which gets an A++)
  • discovered that a NY sommelier can handle clear directions like “pick a Rhone that puts hair on your chest”
  • shared an apartment with four other women (even if only for one night) and we’re still friends
  • messed up my back (again)
  • rode the subway, got carsick in a cab
  • walked through a bit of Central Park
  • had GREAT coffee (Manhattan), had crappy coffee (JFK)
  • saw every human cliché: the skinny socialite, the modern family, the naked cowboy next to the Cookie Monster in Times Square
  • had someone else do my makeup with satisfactory results (including false eyelashes)
  • slept 8 hours
  • rediscovered my friends, realized how much I missed them, and vowed to try harder to see them.

I did not get to partake in everything, courtesy of the back, the need for sleep, and just general timing. What I was there for I enjoyed thoroughly. But I think that has more to do with the company, than with the destination.

Please Stand By

Greetings from Chicago O’Hare, and my second time EVER being here not as a business traveler. Bonus points for the food court between K and G gates.

It’s 6:30 in the morning, and we left Seattle at midnight local time “last night”; ergo, we are running on about three hours’ sleep. The reality of flying to a non-major city (hello, Jacksonville) is you either spend your entire day, or your entire night, flying, because you’re going to be stopping over someplace that is not quite but almost entirely out of any reasonable travel path between your points A and B. In this case to maximize our time with family and fun, we are spending the entire night. It’s not completely awful.

If you think about it, one of the most common ways to placate the boredom, frustration, and general weariness associated with modern travel, is your electronic leash. It may be a laptop; it may be an iPhone or a Crackberry. It used to be a book, but books are losing this race. I am sitting at our gate and follow me around the room: teenager across from me on iPhone. His Dad on iPhone. Behind him, lady with full back and arm tattoos (thanks to her tank top) pulling her cell phone out of her bag. Business lady on an iPad. Businessman on a Blackberry. Other businessman eating, iPhone, iPhone while eating, iPad, something-not-quite-an-iPad but not a Kindle, either.

Our connectivity gives us the opportunity to not connect with others. Anyone stuck in an elevator with (shudder) other humans will note two things: 1. The propensity for an elevator full of strangers to be, in fact, an elevator full of strangers looking at their smartphones, and 2. That the people in the elevator, in the absence of interpersonal communication thread active as they entered the elevator, will space themselves out as far apart from each other as possible. (E.g., if there’s one person in the elevator they’re dead center or in the corner. If there are two, you have upper corner and rear opposite corner. Three are usually one in front middle, two in the rear corners. Four = all four corners. Five = all four corners plus one in middle. And so on.) If ever you’re bored and don’t mind messing with other people’s personal space (and yours), deliberately defy this mechanism.

Yours truly is on her laptop, as it is my electronic babysitter as we wait at the gate for a couple of hours. This is wholly unremarkable with the exception that I know, coming up, I will have a day without connectivity.

I tried, the other night, to trace back how long I’ve had some form of connectivity (to the internet, I suppose), and as best as I can figure that started when I moved back up to Washington and started working for Premera. I think we’re looking at Spring 2001. But the connectivity wasn’t all-encompassing, all-binding until I started working for Expedia, 3 years later. I’ve had a blog since 2005 (not this one), “smartphone” of some sort since 2006, a Twitter account since 2007.

Nine years at Expedia trained me to expect emails 24/7 (this is the boon to working for an international company and having international internal customers). Moving  to Sur La Table has meant a dearth of weekend email. After about 6pm on a Friday it slows to a halt, and doesn’t kick up again (apart from automatic job notifications) until Monday morning. Twice now I have sent myself a test email to my work account to verify that it’s still working.

My addiction to this connectivity is starting to get noticed, and, while normally the recipient of a shaking head or an arched eyebrow, has spawned a bet by Grog the Luddite (Grog works with me, sits in what is referred to the “Man Cave Annex”, and does not understand addiction to connectivity. For “fun”, Grog went to Montana to go do crazy physical acts – like carrying other grown men for ½ mile – in high heat). Grog has declared that for a full 24 hour period, I am not to have any connectivity. To test myself. Like an alcoholic preparing for a day without booze I’m already nervous and wondering what my coping mechanisms will be. It will help that the day selected is a day we’re at the Magic Kingdom all day, right? Well no, because then I don’t get to do my Foursquare check-ins. And what about using Yelp reviews to pick the better eating options? And what if something happens at work?

Because that’s the real crux: what if something happens at work, and they need me, and I’m not available? That’s bad enough. What if something happens at work, and they don’t need me – or discover I’m not needed? Ridiculous, yes, but when you love your job that’s the irrational fear that comes with it.

So Friday it is. From Thursday night whenever I hit the rack, to the following Saturday morning when I awake, I will be totally, and completely, offline. The phone will be on to receive calls, but all email accounts will be turned off, cellular data will be turned off, and my phone will just…be a phone. By way of publishing this now, I am that alcoholic putting in place an integrity check: I’ve SAID I’m going to do it, now I have to do it.

I honestly don’t know what my reaction will be. I wonder if I’ll be irritated by the lack of convenience – or if like a mosquito bite I ignore it long enough I simply forget it? I will be sure to blog all about it… on Saturday.

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself

-FDR

Having nonchalantly signed up for Tough Mudder (NB: I didn’t actually yet sign up for it but I said I would so I will), I was initially apprehensive at the idea of a cold ice bath and a bout of electroshock therapy. But I spent a portion of this flight (greetings from 35k feet) actually looking at the event obstacles, both volume and detail, and see that there’s a whole lot of scary in store for my teammates and me.

Tough Mudder is aptly named, and aside from a couple of obstacles that include electrocution, and a couple (or 4) more that include ice baths, there are several that include enclosed spaces, and a few that involve heights. Oh, wonderful. It’s like someone gift-wrapped all of the things that freak me out and handed it over in one giant muddy package.

I can handle bugs, spiders, pretty much any liquid that comes out of an animal (thanks to a small child and a Zoology degree), heights that will kill me, the dark, speed, guns, knives, the unknown, and swimming with sharks. But while ice baths and electrocution are unsavory, confined spaces and heights that will only break a bone or two scare the high holy crap out of me. I have no idea how to train for this, except that this will be 10-12 miles of “suck it up and deal”.

Seemingly unrelated, but totally not, is a book I picked up recently that discusses (among other things) the value of “stuff” vs. the value of “experiences”. The bottom line is that we value the “experience” more than the “stuff” for the same dollar output. “Stuff” doesn’t necessarily make us happier, but “experiences” do; even people who do arduous, un-fun things reflect back on them and value the experience. (Anyone who has given birth or finished a physical event they weren’t really prepared for — cough — can testify to it having been a lot more fun AFTER it’s over).

I’m clinging to this. To be absolutely, perfectly frank, I want to quit this event before it’s even started, because I know not only what it will mean in terms of preparation, but that at some point I’m going to be stuck in a small, enclosed, dark space; I will be cold, I will feel useless, and I will want to quit, and the only reason I won’t is that I’m too stubborn to do so.

Here we go…

Dabble, Dabble, Toil and Babble

“Your biggest problem”, he stated flatly, “is you’re a dabbler. You don’t specialize in anything. You are not going to succeed because you do not focus on a given talent; you just dabble in this and that.”

This was actually stated, to me, in a 1:1 with my boss at the time. He was a financial services guru and I was his personal and executive assistant, so assigned because I was technically inclined and could type fast. In short, I was good enough to be his e&pa because I dabbled.

Despite initial reaction, this was meant to be a positive speech: it was going to Incite Me To Action and I was going to Make Something Of Myself. Instead, I quit the job, moved back home, and dabbled some more.

I dabbled my way into SQL.

Then I dabbled my way into ASP.Net. Then I dabbled into VB.Net.

Then I dabbled into SQL some more, and into project management. And the dabbling continued, through business development, communications, operations, and back into development (but C# this time).

“Which one of your degrees does this job come from?” wondered my stepmom one night in Spring when I told them I had acquired this one. “None of them!” my dad said wryly.

My old boss is correct: I am a dabbler. None of the things I have done, have I truly specialized in. There are better people at SQL out there than I am, there are certainly better people at .Net and BusDev. But there are damned few who can speak those languages and are willing to translate them, painfully, carefully into shiny PowerPoints and ROI-laden SWAT analyses.

A few months back I had my midlife crisis, it lasted 36 hours and was of the vein  of “what am I DOING with my life? Where will I go next?” And I realized that every other time in my life I’d been faced with that question things unquestionably got better, more exciting, and more rewarding.

I have friends who went to college for what they ended up being in life, they seem happy and fulfilled. I have friends who picked a field and stuck with it, and will have a decent retirement to speak for it. My own parents offer four different examples of picking a road and trotting down it come hell or high water and they’ve all done fine.

I do not believe, though, that diminishes any success by a diagonal route.

Sur La Awesome

My resolution to blog more often has gone by the wayside courtesy of a new job. I started working at Sur La Table about 10 (calendar) days ago (officially) and I’m having a bit of a hard time.

I’m having a hard time separating reality from all of the awesome.

Any time you start a new job, you’re going to be in a “honeymoon” period. Everything is new, and different. It’s a bit like the 4-week rule I had when I was dating. It went something like this:

Week 1: Dating again. Ok, this is cool, this is normal, everyone dates. Cool.

Week 2: He can do no wrong! He’s going to be a Doctor or Lawyer or Artist or Trashman and this totally meets with my life plans because of X/Y/Z contrived plan.

Week 3: He has a fault. It’s not a big fault, it’s a fault; everyone has faults! I’m totally not judging!

Week 4: The fault… has spawned. It has morphed into one giant gelatinous blob of fault-ness, and I can’t stand it.

(At the end of week 4 I’d dump him. He was still on week 1.)

Fully aware that I’m in week two at my new job, I’ve been doing my damnedest to be diligently down on the novelty, and… it’s just not working.

I get to *build* things again. My professional experience with C# is very, very little and very, very old, but I’m almost done building a nifty little widget complete with error handling. I’ve reaffirmed my faith in Stack Overflow, my lack of faith in MSDN, and re-verified that “Dummies” books are anything but. Half of my day is spent “managing” (two rock stars in their field, incidentally) and the other half is spent “creating”. There are two good coffee sources (NOT including those directly in-office) nearby, two Subways, and my desk has a view of Mount Rainier.

Don’t get me wrong: we’re a small shop. There’s a lot of cross-functional, “ok-you-don’t-know-it-so-can-you-build-that-into-your-estimate” expectations, a lot of last-minute, “oh by the way”. But… I get to *build* things again.

And… there are no more 5am meetings (or 6am, or 7am, or 8am). My earliest meeting is 9, most people don’t set one past 5. People show up, they work balls out, they go home. A tremendous lot gets done and while the shortcomings of the vendor/system/funding/etc. are all publicly, and explicitly, acknowledged, this somehow does not diminish the drive of the people who are involved.

We are selling kitchen supplies for the devoted chef. We are not saving lives, we are not universally accessible. But we are providing you the very best that you can get, at the very best value you can get it, with the very best, real advice you can get it with. We are trying lots of things, and we are experimenting, and we are innovating. And yes, my first paycheck will likely be contributing to my future Le Creuset collection. The real value, however, is that I get to build things again.

Even if it means I hit Stack Overflow six times a day.

Transition

Managing transition is either awesome or sucks, there doesn’t seem to be a “transitory” mood to it; either everything buttons up all sweetly or everything runs amok at the last-minute. Or so it seems.

My transition between Expedia and Sur La Table is marred by my boss’ work trip, my personal trip, and a whole host of concern over who takes what work management piece over. Not to fear, the formal plan has been (properly) vetted and communicated, now is the task of actually putting those succinct bullet points in place. For the most part they’re actually aligning nicely, so I’ll deem this transition “awesome”.

I’m very much looking forward to my new position, and a bit sad to leave Expedia, although I really do feel it was time. After nearly nine years, 8 offices, 7 countries, 6 bosses, 5 titles, 4 buildings, and 3 groups (not including a brief reorganization into Finance (?!)), it’s time see new things. And so I go from Passion One (Travel) to Passion Two (Cooking).

When I was 15 I got a job at a Dairy Queen. “Don’t worry,” they said, “after a couple of days you won’t like ice cream or fast food anymore. Everyone loses weight.”  That actually was true for me but more because the walk to and from work was a mile each way, which was certainly good for my food-centric self. I am not, nor have I ever been, known to eschew a Blizzard or a cheeseburger. Going to Sur La Table does not mean I will stop cooking, it will mean I will want to procure more cookware and do more things, and that is an exciting prospect.

Aside from the added incentive to create in the kitchen, though, is the incentive that I will be creating product again — specifically technology product. I’ll be running a small development team, as well as doing some dev myself, and I’m extremely excited at the prospect. I’m quite rusty in parts — although the SQL whiteboard was fun my C# skills are woefully outdated — and so the next few days will be that awkward position of cramming for the “new” job whilst handing off the old.

Transition, indeed.

Learning As I Go

I see I’ve forgotten to do hotel reviews, updates, and other things I learned on my recent trip. Mea Culpa! I blame my economics class.

Patro/Matro-nymics as a Dating Tool

Probably the most fun thing I learned on this recent trip is that Icelanders have dating down to a science. I am not kidding.

In Iceland, the child traditionally takes the father’s first name plus the word ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ (dottir) as their surname. This came up recently about the girl named Blaer, and you can read all about that and link off all you want here, but it got me thinking: you could totally tell if a girl has Daddy Issues if she choses her mother’s name for her surname, and/or if a boy has Mommy Issues likewise. It’s like a window into their childhood and you don’t even have to “wink” at them on Match.com.

Also, one of the best people I’ve got on my London job has the surname Thorisson. We did ask if his dad was named Thor, and it’s pretty close — the name means “worshipper of Thor”, and hey, who isn’t?

It is Possible to Over-Assume as to What Wi-Fi Means

This being my fourth trip to Rome (wow, that sounds really pretentious, trust me when I say as much as I love my Rome team and the fabulous food it’s not as glamorous as it sounds) I was told emphatically that I would not be staying at “that sad little hotel next door”. No, this time I got myself a fancy hotel in the old city, the Valadier, and it was very lovely. They serve a nice espresso. They have wi-fi in the room!

That crashed every. fifteen. minutes. I am not exaggerating. And since my midterm exam was available only for 24 hours, of which 8 I hoped to be sleeping, 4 I had to reserve for dinner (European dinners are breathtaking both in quality and stamina), 9 for work, I really needed my wi-fi to work in my room. A panicked conversation with the front desk man assured me that HIS reception on HIS phone was great, therefore don’t worry.

Thanks to the immense resourcefulness of a lovely gal in the Rome office, I had a quiet conference room and busted out my midterm in 90 minutes right before we left for dinner. Not ideal, but, as the company is/was paying for the class I assume they’ll understand. And yes, I got an “A”.

The Best Laid Plans Will Go Awry. Just Plan For It. 

My flight into Rome was late. My flight into London was late. My flight out of London was really, really late. Jet lag hit harder than any other trip I’ve been on. I broke one of the coffee machines. I lost a meeting room. I totally meant to spend time with someone and didn’t realize I hadn’t until I was almost to Seattle. My plan to have extra room in my bag was thwarted by the fact that it’s winter and all of my clothes were heavy sweaters. Pret changed their menu.

This last trip was a constant reminder that whatever you’re counting on, make sure you’re not counting on it. Or something.

The Best Things Happen When You Take Chances

I went for a run on the Friday, my only morning in London where I’d actually be staying in London that night. Following a map saved to my phone (which got no reception, so it wasn’t a moving map but a pic), I ran about 2.5km up a road and around a park, and then trotted back… or so I thought.

I was about a mile in before I realized *nothing* looked familiar. Not a blessed thing. No buildings, no shops, etc. As most of Islington looks charmingly alike this did not engender much confidence, so I walked into the nearest gas station and asked directions to the Angel Building in Islington. No dice. Walked across the street to a shop, same question, same result.

Hm.

Now, I had no service on my phone, so I couldn’t call up Google Maps. I did not think to bring anything with me but my hotel key, so I had no cash or card to grab a cab back to the hotel. I had run a mile in the *wrong* direction, but which *wrong* was debatable. And so…

I ran back from whence I came, back to the park, and then leveraged every tube station map and bus station map I could find around that park to figure out where I had to go. And got back to my room eventually, ridiculously pleased I didn’t have to give up and get a cab with the promise of “and then wait outside the hotel whilst I go get my wallet”.

Other successful chances included: trying a new place to eat (Meat People. It’s very yum), using my static Starbucks iPhone app to purchase a latte while I had no connectivity (totally forgot Sbux has wi-fi even in London!), and, for the first time in more than 3 years, checking my bag on an international flight. Contents arrived safely both ways.

I therefore declare this trip a success not only for the original needs met, but for the additional learning items. My next trip will be much more local but no less adventurous — please send me your ideas for Portland and the Oregon Coast, with a 10-year-old. 🙂

Brand New Year, Now, With More Crazy!

As much as I’d love to blog about the FiscalCliff, Cliff 2, Cliff 3 First Blood, Child of the Fiscal Cliff, Return of the Fiscal Cliff, Fiscal Cliff Revolutions, etc., I’m not going to, as others have written much better prose and admonishment of it than I could ever hope to do. Suffice it to say that the “deal” currently discussed in the house (and passed by the Senate) doesn’t address any of the problems that need addressing, and the cliff itself is largely a fabrication of this broken legislature we have and so applauding any sort of garbage-pile-at-the-bottom-save they’ve managed to create is an exercise in self-delusion. I’ll save my self-delusion for better use.

(For really excellent writing and explanations of Why This Isn’t A Save and In Fact Is a Huge Ream of BS, Regardless of Which Side of the Political Spectrum You Are On, see: this and this and this. I also recommend following Heidi Moore and Ezra Klein on Twitter. Their play-by-play is excellent.)

Fiscal-political brinksmanship aside, I find myself as many do, the first day of the year, wincing in readiness for the email onslaught as brought by January 2nd; in full knowledge that school starts tomorrow (for both the boy and I, I get Macroeconomics and the last PreCalc class); bracing myself for the inevitable deluge of resoluters at the gym. All the classes will be full and the instructors will be randomized.

I’ve used the past few days off to catch up on my OCD; my rock collection is now digitized (I can look up rocks by family, size, or color), the undercroft is organized (2 thousand plus books are packed up to go to my parents house), the fridge is cleaned out (literally and figuratively), the study is reconfigured, I finished two knitting projects. In typical fashion, this is because I’m avoiding something.

I am avoiding my annual review.

Every year I am asked to write a series of paragraphs (or oblique sentences) about my performance, and every year I’m startled by two things: 1, how much I (and my team(s), when appropriate) have done, and 2, how it bears no resemblance to what we thought we were going to do. At the onset of each year we craft goals based on the plans of the company, and, in the form of companies everywhere, things change. Constantly. It’s got to the point where we should have t-shirts that say “the only constant is change” or “entropy always increases”. I may do that with my morale budget.

There has GOT to be a better way. 

This year, we have attempted to frame our goals in the context of the purpose of the exercise rather than the exercise itself; instead of talking about creating XYZ report or accomplishing ABC task, we’re focusing on the end result: how do we make the company more successful, which thereby (frankly) increases the bonus pool, which thereby (frankly) makes its way into our own microeconomics. That is the part of this exercise the company wants and needs, and that’s great.

It occurs to me however that a lot of us are thriving off of the variety, the change, and the volume of things to do for the sake of the variety, change, and volume. Each new email brings a challenge, almost baiting you: are you up to it? Some crisis has erupted, can you handle it? Can you delegate it? Can you deal with it? I’m happy to say that in the ensuing year I am confident I can do all of those things, this is the rare comfort of someone who has really excellent people to rely on at work. 

And with that, tomorrow officially brings the crazy for 2013. School, school, work, home, and all the entropy that can increase. There is no room for triskaidekaphobia, there is no room to wallow. And so I will write my review, take a deep breath, and acknowledge 2013.

Bring it!