Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas memories, vol 13

My company in the states is a touchy feely kind of place. Not in the pervy sense...that goes against their mutual respect policy...but in a warm fuzzy happy family way. The founder is very Catholic, so company holidays revolve around Christmas and Easter, and there is much emphasis on good clean family living. For example, before Thanksgiving there used to be a bit of a prayer over the loud-speaker on Wednesday before we were sent off to "spend quality time with our families." We got the same speech on the last working day before Christmas Eve (a holiday) and the Thursday before Good Friday (also a holiday).

The first few years I worked there all employees were given two things for Christmas.

The first was a frozen turkey. These were never handed out until at least noon. I mean, they wouldn't want you having your turkey too soon in the day because it might be a distraction. (Though what exactly they thought we'd be doing with a frozen turkey beats me.) Each department was given a time slot to pick up their birds, and then you'd walk to the main warehouse entrance and the owner would personally hand you the turkey and wish you a Merry Christmas. I thought it was kind of quaint and quite liked this tradition, but many people started blowing off their turkey pickup time and he got a little huffy and that tradition stopped, thanks to those ingrates.

The second gift to all employees (and worse, to many of our customers) was a Christmas poster. One of the guys in the "creative" team drew the image every year. It was a realistic pencil sketch and depicted some poignant family moment or child in a cute pose, obviously grabbing at your heart strings to give them a firm pull.

The thing was, this guy was a crap artist and had an imagination stuck in 1953 (even though he was probably born in 1960.) The people in the drawings were always slightly distorted; the scenes were cloying and a little too Leave it to Beaver. One year there was a slightly cross-eyed girl on a swing. Another had two children with smile-grimaces on their faces "beaming" at the old man giving them a candy cane. A third actually featured a clown. I mean, come on. It's Christmas. What's up with Chuckles? The pictures were printed on fake parchment style paper, and had some sentimental quote at the bottom wishing people a Merry Christmas. They really were truly awful.

I'm not sure I know anyone who actually liked them. The company suck-ups would put them up in their cubes to show their sycophantic spirit, but would still bad mouth them just like the rest of us. A few bold types would bin them straight away, though usually in a bin that couldn't be traced to them or that was in the cubicle of a sworn enemy. Most folks took them home and binned them there so there would be no evidence or witnesses.

One year, my friend Kimmy had given her notice and her last day was the Friday after these little babies were distributed to the company. Kim hated them more than most people, and was always the first to find the child molester or the poor retarded child in the picture. So I decided to give her a going away present. I went around the building and collected as many of these posters as I could find. My friends Frank and Mark and Abby helped me, and I think we found a good 150 or so that people didn't want. (Who'd have guessed.) We hid them in an empty cube, and while Kimmy was in her exit interview we stole her car keys and we filled her Subaru to the ceiling with these stupid posters. She came back to her desk, said her final goodbyes and got all weepy that she was leaving her good friends behind. Ever the thoughtful one, I offered to walk her to her car.

Let's just say rage is a great way to stop someone from crying.

The tattletales spread the word quickly...not only had we destroyed 150 of the sacred posters, but our actions had resulted in PROFANITY, and even a bit of taking of the Lord's name in vain by my friend Kimmy.

By the next Christmas I was shipped to England so I'm not sure if our ungrateful behaviour actually ended up putting an end to these horrible things, but one can only hope. Perhaps my secondment was punishment for my insubordination. Or perhaps it was a reward for my heroism.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Christmas memories, vol 12

It's that time of year! Time for you to listen to me tell you stories of the many delightful things that roam my mind at Christmas.

We'll start you out slow, not with a poignant yet funny vignette, but with a general list of some things I love about the holiday season. How about 12 things, both because this is the twelfth installment in the series and because there's that one song about the french hens and milking maids (which I love to hate, though the Bob and Doug McKenzie version rocks.)

1. The smell of those holiday scented candles - not cheap ones from Walmart or even Target, but proper expensive Christmas scented candles from those Partylights people or Bibelot et al.
2. Christmas music. All of it. Heck, I'll even throw in the Dradle song. I love Christmas music almost as much as I love Christmas lights.
3. Finding the perfect parking space at Target on a busy Saturday. Talk about the holy grail.
4. Holiday sweaters. Mind you, I wouldn't wear one, not even if the love of my life knit one by hand as a gesture of pure devotion (let's face it...I've had bad experiences with Christmas knitting,) but I LOVE LOVE LOVE seeing them on other people. It boggles the mind how a person could see a $75 cardigan with a Santa and sewn on sleigh bells and sequins and the nativity scene and say, "My, that would look good with my black stirrup pants!" (Let's see...how many things are wrong with that sentence?) Hours of amusement for a catty fashionista such as me, I tell you.
5. Kids who are scared of Santa. He's fat so you can out run him, he's jolly, and he gives you anything you ask for. What's not to love? In fact, if you were a bit older, I'd say marry him.
6. Decorating my Christmas tree. There's the anticipation of the ornaments, and the twinkly little lights, and hiding the pickle and the basking in the glow of its beauty. Sigh.
7. Mulled wine and mince pies. This is an England thing. You can buy these things pre-made, or you can get all handy and make them yourself. (The wine is actually no harder than making a cocktail.)
8. Secrets. I love secrets. I can't always keep them, but I love them. And Christmas is all about the secrets.
9. Peanut brittle. You just don't see a lot of peanut brittle in March. Or cheese balls. Or gift boxes of oranges. Or my sister-in-law's bitchin' toffee. Or scrabble mix (aka chex party mix).
10. TV specials and Christmas movies...Charlie Brown, the Grinch, Rudolph, of course, but I'm also a sucker for A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street (old AND new), Home for the Holidays, Scrooged, Elf, It's a Wonderful Life...pretty much anything except Home Alone.
11. Even better than those old standards are the "very special" variety shows hosted by a cavalcade of "stars". If there's a has-been actor singing, you're lucky. If there's an Osmond on the show, even better.
12. The excitement of the last day of work before you are off for the holidays...no work is done, you always eat too many little snacks and when you leave the building just for a second you feel EXACTLY like you did when you were a kid and had no responsibilities and could leave school knowing you had a whole school holiday ahead of you to do nothing but play with new toys. Man, that feeling ROCKS.

Thin line between love and hate

MnMom has tagged me to list 10 things that make me want to smack someone in the head.

1. Skinny girls who talk about how fat they are and refuse to eat like a normal person.
2. Drunks who hit on me.
3. Adults who are such picky eaters that they can't just make do with what they're served. You're not five...just remove the damn tomato from your hamburger and move on.
4. People who pass me on the motorway and then once they're settled in front of me, they go just slow enough that I have to reduce my cruise speed or pass them.
5. Men who walk with their hands in their pockets, or who stand with their hands in their pockets and exhibit incredibly bad posture. In fact, I hate all bad posture full stop.
6. People who don't wash their hands after using the lavatory. That is seriously disgusting.
7. Sanctimonious parents who think that they know more than I do because they have kids. Ditto for people who think they know more because they're married. Come live my life for a week and find out how much YOU don't know.
8. People who proudly proclaim they don't read.
9. People who use emoticons, LOL, LMAO and other online or texting expressions when they have a full keyboard at their disposal. Again, are you five??? Use your words, moron.
10. KARE11 for airing Cheers at 1030 for something like 25 years. I'm holding this grudge as long as you aired that damn show. Perhaps by the time I'm ready to forgive, Cheers will be funny again.

You're tagged.

Mindy's List


I don't want to put these back in storage. They're in Minneapolis, and they're from Room & Board, and they're incredibly comfortable. They need a good home, either as a babysitter to take good care of them until I move back to the states, or for a reasonable price to just make them your own. Oh. and the sofa is filled with down, which means that if you're allergic to it you should leave it alone.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

my day

Today was a sad day because my housemate had to put one of her dogs to sleep because it was full of cancer...wasn't diagnosed until this morning and it was too far gone for help. Very sad.

I took off work early and drove her to the vet, and stayed with her while she was saying goodbye. We came home and I filled her with wine and made my mom's vegetable beef soup from last night's roast as a way for comfort food. I wish I could do more.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Executive MBA 2006-07 Director's Prize

This prize is awarded to the Executive MBA student who is judged by his or her peers to have contributed most to the overall success of the programme.

Awarded to: Me

I'm really happy about this - I've been the stream rep between the administration and my fellow students, which is the primary reason I've won this...I've managed a lot of situations and helped sort out problems, and while it's been a bit of work it's also been quite fun. I've got all sorts of thoughts and feelings, and in about an hour I'm calling my mom to hear about Thanksgiving with my brother and to tell her the news, but the over-riding reflection I have is this.

My dad would be very, very proud. This would have made his day.

Monday, November 19, 2007

10 songs I never want to hear again

MichaelG has tagged me to list 10 songs I never, ever want to hear again. Child's play, I tell you.

1. You're Beautiful by James Blunt - you freaky stalky little weirdo.
2. Wildfire by Michael Martin Murphy- what a stupid song. So what if the girl and the horse die? I hate horses, and frankly, when I think back to teen girls with horsey love I hated them, too. I mean, how obvious is that? I say good riddance. I'd take Seasons in the Sun over this one. At least Terry Jacks is about humans.
3. Don't Cha (Wish Your Baby Was Hot Like Me) - Shut up you stupid Pussycat Dolls.
4. Light my Fire by the Doors - "liar" is not pronounced "li-yah", and I don't really care for organ music
5. In the Name of Love by U2 - you've had once more, Bono. Give it a rest.
6. Centerfield - Fogerty, your whiney falsetto pisses me off
7. Boys of Summer - same to you, Henley
8. Anything Madonna has issued since Ray of Light - just stay at home and take care of your kids, Madge. And please get a new stylist. That feathered do from year or so ago was not good.
9. Lonely Boy by Andrew Gold - you have to be a really, petty, immature jerk to grow into adulthood and still be so pissed off that your parents had a second child. Get over it you loser. (I wonder if Bob is still seeking the love that I stole from our parents?)
10. Rule the World by Take That - what a sucky sucky whiny song

If you've made it through the list, you're tagged...add it to the comments, add it to your blog, whatever. And once I've handed in my final paper maybe I will coordinate some sort of downloadable mix like all the cool kids do so you can put little music bombs in your iPod...talk about Russian roulette.

Dirty little secret

I hate Neil Young. Seriously. Hate him. It's his voice, I think. It gives me a headache. But when I hear other people doing his music I realise that I'm not being fair. He's a talented one, that Neil.

Britishisms

Today I caught myself saying:

- PROH-cess
- SHHeh-dual
- fortnight
- Thursday next

Crickey. I've been here for three years and it's finally starting to rub off on me. I even called someone "missus," not as in Mrs. followed by a surname...just "missus". Would girly-girl or miss-thang be better? I'm so confused.

Taking a break

I am 1000 words into our MSI report. I have a total responsibility for 4000 of it, which isn't so bad. Of course, I have to write the literature review and methodology sections which are dull as dirt, so you'll have to excuse me if I am having difficulty paying attention. The 1000 I have written are in that section, which means I'm halfway through and then things start to get more interesting. Hooray.

It snowed last night. Like an inch. In true England style it was melted by the time I got up to go to work, but it never snows here in November so it feels like winter is upon us. Just to add a bit of festivity to my mood I've added some Christmas tunes to the iPod, so when Sleigh Ride starts playing or I hear Santa Baby I am reminded that I will be home in a month. This has been the shortest autumn on record. By next week you'll be getting Christmas memories and more pictures of me as a chubby kid. I mean, what are the holidays without eggnog lattes, mince pies and Mindy's pithy reflections?

In addition to finishing my coursework, I have additional pressures from school. First of all, I have a black tie ball on Saturday to celebrate the end of our MBA, and I need to find something fabulous to wear. I have two black tie standbys...one is a sexy lace cocktail dress and another is a lacy ballgown skirt with a beaded silk top. I was perfectly content with these options until the women on the course started comparing notes about what they are wearing and now I am compelled to buy something new. I have found a satin tulip skirt, an Anna Scholz lacy corset and a swishy little velvet jacket online, and if they fit (they arrive tomorrow) I may go for boho-chic black tie instead of my retro-sexy look...we'll see. Then there is the issue of shoes...I have some lovely black patent ones (two pairs, actually) that will do, but I have a burning desire for something beaded and pointy. And then I need to figure out what to do with my hair.....

Secondly, I was asked to give a keynote address at our final session on Saturday. I said yes without thinking, as I can usually throw something together that says what I want to say. (If you've had me in your wedding party you probably have me on video doing just that!) But a few people know I'm doing this and they've been talking about how this is really a big deal and that brits will expect laughter and tears and that there will be some sort of rebuttal and, well, now it seems like a big damn deal. So I feel like I need to spend a night on it now, which is one more night (possibly even two) more than I have to give and so I'm pissy now.

Okay. Back to the grindstone. Off to innovate. See you later.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Guest blog - Mama Gin files

Dear Gentle Readers of Melinda June,

Min has generously offered to host this week's episode of "The Mama Gin Files." I was unable to post it on the front page of Coaster Punchman's World for fear of retribution by Poor George, who forbade me from publishing the video. However, since the trials and tribulations of living with Mama Gin is my story too I feel altogether entitled --- at least as long as I don't get caught.

Click here to experience Poor George trying to practice his bass clarinet in the face of Mama Gin's daily dose of harassment.

Google Video has been acting really weird lately, so it may take several clicks on the "play" button before you actually get to see the video. (It might tell you it's "unavailable" a bunch of times - something Google is trying to iron out.)

And if you aren't amused by crazy Chinese ladies harassing their gay sons, there are also some cute cats in the video. Maybe that will make up for it.

Enjoy.
CP

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Oh well

After your resounding advice, I consented to having a drink. He beamed. He told me I looked lovely, and he paid. I'm still just not that interested. Sadly, I'd like to be the sort who has a handsome younger man on my arm, but this is not the one. I find him dull.

Dull is not sexy. Oh well.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Trophy boyfriend option

I'm 41. I'm a few weeks shy of having an MBA and a few months shy of a fancy new job. I'm smart, I'm arty, and I read a lot. And now I have a new admirer and he's 26 and he's handsome but not that bright and his major interests (aside from me) are the footie and beer (in quantity).

I've always preferred my men smart, even geeky. They have wicked senses of humour and know lots of things about lots of things and they read books and see movies that don't necessarily have Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson in them and can occasionally play all seven tiles in a game of Scrabble.

But those aren't the ones admiring me. Little British Jethro is. Those guys are married or seem to be looking for someone that's decidedly not me. LBJ blushes when he talks to me and thinks I'm fascinating.

If I were a guy, I would mercilessly ridicule me. But I could do with a night out and a little attention.

What's a girl to do?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I can has cheezburger

I spend a lot of time here while avoiding working on my papers. I usually laugh a lot, which is better than writing papers because that isn't fun at all right now.

Advisory

Movies warn you about sex, language, adult situations and violence. None of these do me any good, as I don't really care if a movie contains these things.

I do, however, think they should also offer a "D" rating that warns unsuspecting film goers that the movie contains poignant death scenes of characters losing loved ones to debilitating or long-term illnesses. I was watching a movie called Wah Wah last night, which was moving but good, and told the story of actor Richard E. Grant (best known to American audiences for vaguely villain-like roles in Masterpiece Theater episodes or Gosford Park.) There's an abusive father, an adulterous mother, a wacky new wife who helps turn the father around, and a young boy trying to grow up in Swaziland about the time the British turned it back to its people. All good. And then the father starts dying of brain cancer, and they're all sitting by his bed as he withers away and tries to let them know that he loves them and to tell them goodbye.

I've done this. Don't want to watch it on a Saturday night. Turned it off immediately and paced the house to calm back down.

Had to watch Peggy Sue Got Married to clear my head.

Lazy Sunday morning

Ah, Sunday.

Not sure why it sounds like Hips Don't Lie is coming out of my iPod, but never mind. It's Sunday and I slept until 10 and made soft boiled eggs and soldiers for breakfast and have finished my second cup of coffee, so all is right with the world.

Sorry I haven't been around much this week. It had nothing to do with my head bang and more to do with the fact that I was simply too busy and tired, and preferred surfing to writing when I was online. Work has exploded...we have something like 30 active proposals on my team of 3 full time and 3 part time people, and since our capacity at full staff is 20 and we have one person on holiday you can imagine my consternation. That, combined with my final three weeks of MBA work and trying to find my stuff amid my still packed boxes and a genuine desire to get some rest so any minor damage from my tumble could heal have made this a less than pleasant week.

I had two big accomplishments this week.

1) I turned in my Globalisation report on Cuba. As I've mentioned in the past, I was supposed to go to Cuba for a week on a study tour back in June, and then the individual assignment in that class was to write a 1500 word personal reflection on that experience. But instead of going to Cuba, I came home to the states and spent three weeks with my family while my father was dying...certainly the right decision, but it put me in a spot because I then had to figure out what to do to meet the assignment requirements. Everyone was very accommodating...they made it all very open ended and didn't give me a deadline and were very supportive. I decided to basically follow the assignment and do a personal reflection on Cuba as an America who'd never been there. But I didn't write the report. I couldn't. I'd try, but I would find a thousand other things I had to do instead. I'd even clean to avoid writing the thing, for pete's sake. I DID NOT want to write this report. When I DID try, I'd start crying. It was like some sort of grief trigger...there has been so much to deal with in my normal life since I got back from the funeral, and for the most part I've dealt with grief by setting it aside because I simply don't have time right now. I think my report somehow opened that door, so I kept avoiding it so I could keep going.

But to get my MBA I have to get the damn thing done. A few weeks ago, my co-coach, Simon, gave me a kind but pointed talking to about this and starting holding me to deadlines, which helped. And he was nice enough to check in regularly to be sure I was on track, so I was able to treat it like a task, compartmentalizing it, as well. Tears were running out of my eyes pretty much the whole time I was writing, like some sort of faucet that was dripping, but the report is done, it's turned in. It is not my best work. It could have been a whole lot better with more word count and research time. But is is done, it will pass, and I can move on.

2) I have been growing increasingly frustrated with workload at the office....there is somehow this perception that my team has too many people on it, and I get lots of pressure to be working more efficiently. That's a fair request, and I'm happy to do that. But there is also this very subtle message that we should actually be reducing head count by achieving these efficiencies. This annoys me, partly because it takes a different strategy to prepare a team for optimal efficiency than it does for reducing headcount, and partly because this is all based upon gut feeling and not on tangible performance matrices...in fact, my offers to try to do some numbers analysis on productivity per head have been squelched because my manager thinks that's all just open to interpretation. (Whereas gut feeling...now THAT'S a science, but never mind) We've agreed to disagree, and I do things his way.

Unfortunately, when I flag the possibility that we can't take more work without breaking morale and possibly under-delivering and losing business, it either falls completely on deaf ears or I actually get reprimanded. The reprimand is for being negative...my supervisors believe one can never say anything negative and should only state solutions, whereas I believe that one can only come up with solutions when one has articulated a problem. Therefore I articulate a problem prepared to discuss solutions with my supervisors to gain consensus before proceeding, and my managers get angry because I haven't just stated a solution. I find this incredibly frustrating, especially since I've also been reprimanded for taking the wrong approach by stating a solution they disagree with, and I'm often having to manage situations with only 50% of the information, as there are often significant unspoken agendas at play higher up the food chain.

So this week I decided the rules were changing. I threw politics to the wind and sat both of my managers down to discuss problems on my team. I was completely unemotional...something that I have only recently learned to be when I'm passionate about something. I stated facts, my interpretation of them, and what I was doing as a result. I articulated areas where I felt I was not receiving appropriate managerial support and pointed out that, in the same way that I am accountable to my team and must adjust my style get their willing support of the goals I have in place, they are accountable to me and are currently not doing a good job at gaining MY support.

I'm not sure they were so pleased with my feedback, but I feel much better now, and will therefore be more effective at my job. I can say, though, that I delivered my message in a manner that will get me better results than my old tactics...I didn't rant and rave, but instead matched my style to theirs, and I have the best chance I can of getting through to them. We all know that I'll be moving on to something new now that my MBA is completed, so it's an odd situation. I am now extremely over-qualified for my current position, and while it makes it harder to manage me because they know I have opinions I am not stating unless asked, I am willing to do my job well until I find another job and right now they can't really afford to lose a set of hands.

I also got a new haircut...the stylist is an older gentleman who used to work at Vidal Sassoon in London and now he is semi-retired with his own shop in a nearby village. A friend recommended him, and he gave me a very good cut. It is a precision one...you can see the layered segments within it, and they all swing together nicely to release the curls. But I wasn't done with the shaggy crop cut I got in August, and now I'm back to a bob with heavy bangs. It looks nice, but it wasn't what I wanted. I am conflicted.

The head is fine. Bruises are almost gone now, and I still have had very few side effects. And I figured out that the toast-buttering problem was the knife, not me. I've since used that knife again and realised it is just plain awkward for spreading things...the weight is off or something. A relief to know. I've done a little research, and as I'm sure the Bethanizer and El Doctor Ben and will verify, if you're going to bang your head the best place to do it is squarely on the forehead, as it is the least vulnerable part of your skull. I was very lucky.

I am now going over to my old house to meet my landlord, who says there are things there that are mine (two things are because I couldn't get in the house when the prospective buyers changed the locks on me, even though they don't actually own the house yet,) and then I'm going to the gym, and then I'm going to crank out a paper and do some research on another. Lazy Sunday is over. And I'll try to get online more often so you don't have just one giant post to read once a week.

Oh. And though one deadline has shifted slightly, in two weeks I'll be done with classes and in three I'll be done with my MBA. I then get my life back. HOORAY!!!!!!!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Checking in

Don't have time to write today, but in case you thought my silence was related to my injury I figured I'd better update you. Those of you who've joked about me having a thick skull were apparently much more correct than you knew. I'm just fine.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Oops

I'm not so coordinated in the morning. Today, I lost my footing on the steps and went careening headfirst into a wall. I was trying desperately to regain my balance, and had my head tipped back so I hit first with the bottom of my chin, scraping the underside of it and slamming my upper front tooth well into the flesh of my inner bottom lip. In a split second my forehead followed, smacking dead center into the wall with a little nose-slam follow-through to boot.

I don't really have a headache but I look like a unicorn, eating or drinking is painful, and my right knee and my left shoulder sustained some sort of strain, as well. I can move around just fine, though, and while I'm sure I won't feel great tomorrow there is no nausea, forgetfulness or other symptom of concussion so I think I'll live. That said, I had serious trouble buttering my toast...it seemed like a minor depth perception thing. But I figure that since I just wrote a 1500 word paper maybe it was just the lack of coffee.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Old vs. new, or why being a housemate isn't all bad

Old Friday Night:
  • Leave work at 7pm or so. Go to the grocery store for something to make for dinner, end up going home with some snack that you shouldn't have.
  • Watch Eastenders.
  • Make a cocktail. Make dinner. Eat.
  • Half-heartedly work on a paper. I mean, you're busy and all, but it's Friday night. Mostly you surf the internet and watch Ugly Betty.
  • Fall asleep watching Jonathan Ross and make catty remarks about Girls Aloud and how stupid Gordon Ramsey's boots are.
  • Go upstairs and get into bed, but now you can't sleep, so you toss and turn and then drift off around 2.
New Friday Night:
  • Leave work by 6 because you have plans.
  • Go pick up housemate, go to Ikea and walk around looking at things. Buy a chair and a throw and a few necessary household items you weren't planning on (this time some pretty little juice glasses.)
  • Go to local Chinese restaurant for some delicious food and conversation.
  • Go home to watch Ugly Betty.
  • Unload car during commercials.
  • After UB finishes, assemble Lillegard rocking chair.
  • Watch Jonathan Ross and make catty remarks about Girls Aloud and how stupid Gordon Ramsey's boots are, to which housemate responds in agreement.
  • Stay up chatting, and then head to bed around 1, and with the blackout shade on the window you actually fall asleep and make it a full night without fitfully waking up from the stupid streetlamp.
All in all, the move is successful so far.