Sunday, December 26, 2010

It's a Marshmallow World

And while I could be talking about my thighs, I'm talking about the unexpected blizzard currently blowing outside my window.  We checked the weather last week, knowing we'd be on the road Friday and Sunday and not much was said except there was a storm that would probably be out at sea to the east of us.  We proceeded with our plans and had a lovely, if whirlwind holiday weekend.  Arrived at my childhood home at 3PM, exchanged gifts with Mom and Uncle and by 4PM were at my cousin's for a nosh-fest and more presents, and then by 6:30PM were at church for services and (more importantly) to hear my favorite soloist and childhoold friend belt out "O Holy Night" better than Pavarotti.  By 8:30PM at my best friend's house for more food, more presents, more visits, and more fun.  Home by 11:15PM, asleep by 11:30PM. 

Saturday morning we checked weather again and heard a little bit of accumulation might occur late Sunday night.  By 11AM we were headed to another cousin's and arrived in time to watch all 5 of their kids, and them, opening about 1,000 gifts.  (You can tell my cousin and her husband both work in retail....they've been shopping since August.)  They had TWO trees!  Count them two.....both in one room (telling you how big their living room is.  And one of the trees was no less than 15 feet tall....honest...I'm not exaggerating!  We took no pictures, of course, but we ate like we hadn't eaten in 4 days, and had a lot of fun smashing months worth of visiting into a few short hours.  We were back at Mom's by 7PM - since our hosts had retail duty starting at 5AM today.  When we turned on the weather, we heard the accumulation might be greater, but probably starting late afternoon. 

Everything changed in 12 short hours.  This morning we woke at 7:45 to hear the words BLIZZARD WARNING!  So, instead of staying at my mom's house until about noon and having a leisurely brunch before getting on with our 6 hour drive, we hightailed it out right away.  In fact, I think we may have left skidmarks on her carpet we ran out so fast.  (Sorry Mom!)

Mom, ever the realist, wanted us to be safe more than anything, so she packed us a survival bag (water, laughing cow cheese, granola bars, and at my gentle reminder - a box of christmas cookies!  She also threw in a blanket.  The roads were so clear and light on traffic for 4/5ths of the ride, I was starting to wonder if this was another case of media hype, but we hit the 50 mile from home mark and it started coming down and the traffic started slowing down and the reports of local accidents started ramping up.

Home before 3PM and we realized it was perfect timing.  We unpacked the car, backed both cars tight to the garage (unfortunately our 2 car garage is too full of storage to get either car inside right now...definitely need to do some more freecycling and sorting). Brought in our glass patio table (yes, I know, should have been done months ago) and promptly built a roaring fire in the fireplace.  For the last 30 minutes I've been watching the snow coating building up on my office window since it is blowing horizontally, and I've also been watching the cars skidding up and down my road (get home people!)

We'll deal with tomorrow and digging out and getting to work if we need to, but for tonight, it's a toasty fire, frozen pizza, one purring kitty, and cable movies.

Hope your holidays were merry and you stayed ahead of any blizzards in your life (real or metaphorical) as well.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Have a Bowie-Crosby Christmas

I enjoy this duet every year.  It seems to be a polarizing pick your side...but it's my favorite.

Merry Merry

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The End of an Era

Today we bid good-bye to a colleague of ours. She had been with the company for more than 35 years.  Considering how much I know I have slowed down since I started there 20 years ago, at age 23,  I was always amazed at her continuing commitment and drive at the office.  You see, the Doctor (as we called her since she is a PhD in Archaeology), turned 86 years young this year.

I wish I could say that this was a celebration moment.  I wish I could say that she was heading off to new adventures and a life of well-earned leisure.  Instead, it was a difficult business decision that we as a management team had to make.  With the MERGER in full gear, and the pressures mounting on reorganization, we had to look at our little family with a clear business-only view.  No longer could we have discussions about how to provide the Doctor with work suited to her intellect AND age.  No longer could we use phrases like, "But she's been here forever, it doesn't cost much to keep her on..." We had always hoped someday she would come in and say...."I'm done.  I'm satisfied.  Life here has been good, now it's time to move on to the next phase of life."

Instead we had to give her the boot.

It was all done with grace and dignity, a nice comfortable departure package, some advanced notice, and with as little attention as possible, as was her wish.  She insists she will be looking for a new job in the new year.  She will not rest easily with idle hands.  I wondered as I listened to her if we are all destined to make that mind shift.  When do you think we change from the people we are most of our working lives - dreading getting up in the morning and stressing over the day, wishing for that one big lottery ticket win - into the person who doesn't want it to end.  I see it happen so often.   And yet I can't imagine wanting to stay at my job one minute past the absolute necessary time I need to see the financial road clear.

In the end, she didn't want a lot of sentiment.  She didn't want a party.  She barely wanted to say good-bye.  And those of us she did talk to, privately and quietly as is her way, understood.  We understood as we held her hand and cried a little ourselves as if we were hearing the news for the first time.

And in her typical fashion of laughter and charm, she gave me a hug today and said, "Onward"....I've heard her say that so many times with a jaunty fist punch in the air and her 4' 10" trim body bounding down the aisle, it seemed almost like any other day.


I watched her walk up the aisle of cubicles today toward the door - for the last time as one of us.  She was bundled against the cold and pulling her shopping cart on wheels filled with some of the last items from her desk.  It was just about the saddest thing I've ever seen.  And even though I was 100% behind the business decision...the pure human side of me - the side that saw my longtime colleague and friend departing not only her place of work, but her place of community - that side of me cried.

We all swore today that we would stay in touch.  We'll have lunch.  We'll visit.  We'll call.  And I hope we will.   But we all knew that something shifted today and it will be all too easy to just let go.

I stopped at her desk before leaving tonight and touched the books she left behind.  A gargantuan old dictionary that she had zealously guarded for the last 20 years, swearing the newer dictionaries we got for her were simply not as accurate or complete.  The books on technical translation for English to Spanish and Spanish to English that helped her get through multi-lingual documents written and read by engineers and scientists.  The rule books on grammar and style that she could probably recite by heart.  I smiled a little to see the ream of paper that she used to raise the height of her monitor.  That ream looked like it was the same one she must have plucked out of the supply closet 15 years ago - wrinkled and stained - but it would be unlike her to find a reason to replace it with a formal stand or even a fresh ream.  It was still doing the job.  Still just the right height.  Why would she need anything else?

Then I stepped outside her cube and pulled her nameplate from the wall.  No one else had done it.  No one else would want to.  But I needed it to be an empty cube now.  Not the space the Doctor was supposed to occupy.

On Monday we start again.  And we'll be a little less because she is gone.  The end of an era.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

In the Spirit of Giving

I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catchers mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.
~Maya Angelou


This is the time of year charities count on the "Christmas Spirit" to open up our hearts and our pursestrings and support their noble activities for the entire year.  Food banks typified with bare shelves 11 months a year, suddenly find their stores overflowing.  Homeless shelters are bombarded with individuals, groups, and companies wanting to help.  From clean water, to housing, to canned goods, to toys for tots....they are all on our list at this time of year.

Every year for the past several years, when we finally started to realize we had too much for one household, we give a little back.  We sponsor charities at work - Water for People, Toys for Tots, NY Cares Coat Drive.  We stuff dollars into fireman's pails at intersections, uniformed Salvation Army volunteers' pails at grocery stores, and every jar at every store counter we come across.  We pay forward the grocery store gift cards we've received from my husband's company as an employee bonus.  We try to buy gifts from organizations that donate some of the proceeds to other causes.  We sponsor letters to Santa from the Post Office - we've given bikes, video games, coats, underwear, jeans, etc.  We select a charity each year and give a little extra - Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, The Cancer Society.

At other times of the year, when asked, we give.  Joey's boy scouts. Timmy's ride for the cure.  Susan's walk for the cure.  Alice's candy sale for the school trip.  Denise's dress drive for prom night.  We participate in the back to school clothes for kids program, giving book bags and new clothes and shoes to needy kids to help them enter their new school year bright and shiny like the other kids in their class.  We've donated to veteran's causes in honor of our military family members, past, present and future.

I don't tell you all this to take credit for the giving.  Because to tell the truth, I'm the needy one.  I'm the one who needs to feel a little less selfish, a little less self-absorbed, and even a little less lucky.  I need to even the playing field as I look at more and more families with education and loving family backgrounds being driven into poverty and desperation.  I need to know why my family survives and thrives while others fail. 

This week, other blogs (Bloggess you rock) got personal with their donations.  They asked people in need to just say the word and those in better stead, stepped up and fulfilled that need.  I came late to the party - all the needs on that list were satisfied.  I still signed up, late is better than never.  Because I know it is a thin line that we all walk today.  A very thin line between having and not.  Between healthy and working and sick and not.  Between sheltered and not.  Between lucky...and not.  If you read the Bloggess post and don't cry....I can't possibly relate to you. 

In the store the other day, a woman turned to me, her basket full of toys, clothes, gifts, and said, "Do you hear that song? It's the most wonderful time of the year? It's the happiest time of the year?  Bleh.  It's the most expensive time of the year."  I smiled and moved on, wondering about how we all forget how lucky we are that we can afford to fill our shopping carts. 

Today I got a holiday card from my Aunt.  In the card she wrote this:

"Dear Wendy and Carl,

What I would have spent on your gifts, I bought a truck, mittens, and a hat for the 4 year old boy in the L.L. Bean family (charity).  He will be a happy little guy.

Wishing you a healthy, happy Christmas and New Years.

Much love from
Aunt Marge"

This is already my favorite gift this year.

Take a moment today - a few days before the solstice, a few weeks after Hannukah, a short week before Christmas and look around you at every blessing you possess.  It's a little early I know, but I'm starting my long list of resolutions for 2011.  #1 on the list is Find Ways to Give Back.  And that means throughout the year, not just at the holidays.  If you have ideas for me, please let me know.  I'm looking to, like the Bloggess and the Grinch, grow my heart a few sizes.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Good Day, Bad Day....Typical Day

These days at work the MERGER is really chapping my butt. 

Every day as I drive to work, I wonder how much of the day will be good and how much will be bad, but I know for sure it won't be all of one or the other.  One of the VPs here relayed a comment from an outside consultant who was initially engaged (and subsequently dismissed) to help our two companies manage the integration.  The consultant talked about the Mood Elevator.  "You're up, You're down, You're on top of the world, You're down in the dumps....that's integration." 

So true.

Of course I can't get into specifics here in this public forum, so all I will say is.....


As they draw in the funny pages when a character has less than complimentary things to say.

Today I had a great meeting that brought people together from both sides of the organization to dicsuss a joint marketing and communications endeavor.  Good ideas on both sides.  We learned things from one another.  Nothing was defensive or difficult.  It was a high point.

But at the exact same time, other conversations (via email, text messages, etc) were ongoing about a wholly different activity that felt like a nuclear bomb was going off at my desk.  Fully territorial.  Fully adversarial.  Turning me into the person throwing my hands up in the air and giving up on a reasonable response.

Good day....bad day....riding the elevator.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Perspective at Kohl's

So the other night I had to return to Kohl's because two gift cards I had purchased mysteriously disappeared.  I think they never made it into my bag....but no one turned them in at the who knows. 

Anyway, on the way there I had a catch-up call with a dear friend.  This (anonymous by request) friend and I caught up, had a few laughs, and then she delivered some news.  Some health news. Some news that makes you stop and think.  It is treatable.  It has a great prognosis.  But it is one of those moments where you stop and say, "Damn, and I was worried about x,y,z....let's stop that and just think positive thoughts about her and about how lucky I am today." 

I sat in the parking lot with the engine running and the snow flakes flying and listened to her relay the details.  I offered my love and encouragement and I was happy to truthfully say I knew everything would be fine...but I also knew she was, of course, going to be anxious until I was proven right.  Being an anxious person myself, I offered her my ear (or shoulder) for any moments of anxiety she has in the future. "I'm good," I said, "at turning these anxious moments into something you can laugh at." 

After nearly an hour of talking, we finally hung up the call, I turned off the engine and walked into Kohl's to handle my missing gift cards.  I walked past the hordes of bargain hunters and the messy displays and all the way to the service desk in the back.  A very efficient woman, but only one, was handling a line of people waiting for their special requests for returns, exchanges, bill payment, questions, coupon extensions, etc.  I waited and listened to the heavy sighs that exhaled from the people around me.  Sighs meant more for the rest of us to understand their frustration than for the simple venting of CO2.  I listened to how people snapped at the girl behind the counter who was actually very proficient at her job and working quickly.  I listened to how unreasonable demands were met with competent and generous offers. 

Your Kohl's cash expired two months ago but you still want to use it? Sure, here's a new certificate. 

Your card is being refused because you haven't paid your bill?  Well, let's process a minimum payment so you can go spend the maximum balance. 

You washed this shirt in hot water and it shrunk?  No problem, we'll exchange it for a bigger size for you. 

I mean Kohl's could not have done much more to appease these people, but I got the impression they all want what they wanted...and they wanted it RIGHT NOW.  With no waiting. And they STILL weren't going to be all that happy about it.

When it was my turn, my mind was still back on that phone call. I was already thinking of travel plans and arrangements and how I could be at my friend's side when she was having the necessary procedure.  If she didn't need me at her side, I was thinking about how I could distract her with little funny stories or gifts that would keep her in her natural positive sunny state and help her with her recovery.  But, I woke myself up to the present and smiled at the harried Kohl's employee and told her my story. 

I purchased two gift cards, here is the receipt.  When I got home and opened my bag - they were not there.  I called the store and they told me I could get new cards if I came in.  Here I am.

She thought a moment, reached under the counter and pulled out a binder. She then paged the store for someone to help as she knew this would tie her up for more than the average 1 minute she was spending per transaction before I got there.  The binder was full of multi-colored sheets. Probably the FAQs and answers for every possible customer situation.  She found what she needed, punched a bunch of numbers into one computer and then another, made phone calls to central office for codes, etc. 

Behind me I heard the sighs increasing in volume and voracity.  I remained calm and quiet.  THIS is what I'm going to stress about?  Not after that phone call.  Give me a break.  The Kohl's associate continued to solve my problem, which required a manager signature.  When he arrived at the desk he proceeded to snidely inform her she did it all wrong.  She pointed to the binder and showed him evidence she was right and he said, "Nope. Re-do it!"  He walked away, as self-important as could be and she turned to me and exclaimed in frustration, "YOU SHOULD HAVE YELLED AT HIM!  WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL HIM YOU'D BEEN WAITING FOR 20 MINUTES AND HE SHOULD JUST SIGN IT ALREADY AND LET YOU GO???"

I looked at her and smiled.  I said, "It honestly never occurred to me to yell at him tonight.  There are just too many more important things in life than getting into a fight over a gift card."  She stopped and smiled back and quietly agreed.  She made a call, confirmed she had been right in her process.  Gave me my new cards and told me she would take care of the necessary signatures and there was no need for me to wait any longer.  By this time, all the other customers had been managed and departed, so I asked her to ring up my one tiny purchase. 

What was my purchase? A little card for my friend....a card about perspective. And together that Kohl's associate and I smiled at the card's message and took a little of that perspective home ourselves.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Crinkle of Paper, Jingle of Bells

It's that time again.  When I struggle mightily to come up with fresh new ideas for gifts for family, friends, and colleagues that does not simply add to the CRAPOLA factor.  You know, the stuff you give/get every year where you think, "where in the world will I put/use/keep this?"  In simpler times, people so often went without what they needed, much less wanted, that it was easy to find something in any price range that could really by used and treasured by the recipient. 

Nowadays, we all tend to get everything we need, and then some, and our wish list is largely satisfied too, except maybe for those big items that are truly lotto dreams.  I laughed when I looked at my nephew-in-law's Amazon list - where he has a $600 kegerator on the list.  I love you man, but maybe you can just be satisfied with a 6-pack?  Plus, you are in Cuba right now, so I'm pretty sure the kegerator would rust away unused for the next year.

Anyway, I managed to find some neat little things for those that we love and care for and I hope they are enjoyed by them all.  We also went to some edible gifts this year (be watching your doorstep some of you family gathering loved ones on 12/23-12/24) and some custom items that came back with us from Italy.

This weekend was wrapping time, so my house looks like this:

A preview of some of the sweet gifts I found at my favorite stores - Pier One and Home Goods (not to mention vendors in Venice, Murano, Burano, Rome, and Florence!)

I'll probably have to go back and get us one of these throws - Penny really took a liking to it!

I learned my lesson last year.  No fine/refined jewelry for the nieces...go funky, wild, and BIG!

I think I'm nearly done now.  Just "wrapping it up" (pardon the pun) now.  How are your holiday preparations shaping up?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Grinch, No More

My family knows that I typically do not decorate my home for the Christmas holidays unless we are hosting an event - family or otherwise.  And this year, the holiday will be an "away game" (assuming this crazy snowy weather to the west of us gives us all a holiday break) and so no lights, no tinsel, no ornaments adorn my home.  I think people are really frightened that that is a sad thing for us.  I guess I don't find it sad.  I still do the holiday shopping, the wrapping, watch some of the christmas specials, and listen to my umpteen holiday cds.  I do the company holiday party, the christmas eve church service, christmas dinner with family (in a couple locations) and all that holly jolly not pulling out the decorations doesn't really bother me at all.

But my sister helped us with the minimum measures this year.  That sweet woman sent me a decorated tree.  And knowing my desire to TRY and be somewhat green, it can even by planted in my yard come Spring.

Tiny, but festive.  Thanks Sis.  We love it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Today's Message from Dalai Lama

Today I got one of those forward emails.  You know the kind.  The sappy life messages with pictures of butteflies and flowers that always make you stop and wonder.  Mostly I wonder who has the time to put these things together.  But you know, they usually say something I need to hear.  Supposedly this one was created from quotes the Dalai Lama gave in 2010... a Dalai Lama mantra if you will.

I watched it.  Twice.

Here's what it said.

Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
When you lose, don't lose the lesson.
Follow the three R's - Respect for self, Respect for others, Responsibility for all your actions.
Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
Don't let a little dispute injur a great relationship.
When you realize you've made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
Spend some time alone every day.
Open your arms to change, but don't give up your values.
Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
Live a good, honorable life.  Then when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a second time.
A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation.  Don't bring up the past.
Share your knowledge.  It is a way to achieve immortality.
Be gentle with the Earth.
Once a year, go someplace you've never been before.
Remember the best relationship is one where your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.

Ok.  So what do you think?  Sappy?  Trite?  Or maybe words to live by?  There are some zingers in there I have to say.  Things that resonate with me right now as my professional life continues its upheaval in MERGER world.  Like, open your arms to change, but don't give up your values.  Hmmmm.  Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.  Yeah....knowing your trade-off limits is a good thing. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.  I'm still learning that one.  And until I do, I'm following: Remember sometimes silence is the best answer.

In a similar vein, my sister gave me a card several years ago and I liked the words in it so much I turned it into a bookmark.  Like the notes above, it is something I read most days and try...I really do try.

Live with intention.
Walk to the edge.
Listen hard.
Practice wellness.
Play with abandon.
Choose with no regret.
Continue to learn.
Appreciate your friends.
Do what you love.
Live as if this is all there is.
- mary ann radmacker

I like how it starts.  Live with intention.  I do tend to float through life sometimes, letting it happen to me, rather than defining it myself.  It is important to be able to go with the flow, but perhaps it is more important to influence the flow and react purposefully.

Guess I'm immersed in philosophical thought today.  Care to join me?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

And on to the next holiday

It has been nine long years since our friends have visited us.  It is only a 5 hour drive, but sometimes it can be worlds away.  Now that two of their three wonderful kids are out of the nest, it seemed a little easier to find a weekend that wasn't totally committed to sports, studies, events, birthdays, etc. etc. etc. and a visit was finally scheduled...the first weekend after the Rock Center tree was lit.  And where did they want to go? NYC of course.  For fun, their youngest brought along her best friend...both with the same name.  They don't seem confused by it at all.  I was thoroughly confused by it.  But no matter. They were both adorable.

It all began with a train ride.  Such a hum drum thing for those of us who use it all the time....very new and even intimidating for them.

They are actually jumping up and down inside....really....I promise...believe me at the house for two days before we left, they were physically jumping up and down!  Maybe they look less excited because we told them to remember the train stop in case we got separated in NYC and they had to find their way home. 

Unseasonably cold for early December...we bundled up well and made our way down to Battery Park so they could see Lady Liberty.  She was awfully small out in the harbor...but they still thought it was worthwhile.  Here they are at the sight of the Korean War Memorial (I checked Mom, Uncle Lambert wasn't listed) bravely fighting the wind.

For the Mr./Dad we had to hit the courthouse steps.  He is a law and order junkie.  So while he posed on teh steps, we all yelled:  Dun-Dun.  Or is it Bum-Bum?  Well whatever.  If you know the show, you know the sound.  It's amazing how all the sights of NYC have so much history and yet people always get the most excited about those that resonate from movies, tv, and other things they experience from their LaZBoy at home.  I have to admit, when we returned from Italy, we did sit up a little straighter when we connected movie sites to what we had seen.

Next was all about ChinaTown.  Thoroughly daunted by the whispers in our ears (Gucci? Coach? Fendi?) we stuck with the actuall retail shops.  The girls crowded in to the little shop to find their Hello Kitty glitter necklaces.  "Two for $15!"  "You no want one!  One is $12"  "I make you good deal" 

In one of my favorite shots of the day...Tay shows she's happy, but certainly overwhelmed by the crowds.  I didn't tell her she hadn't seen anything yet...we were still downtown of the true hordes.

We were working our way uptown, hitting all the items on the checklist.  It's hard to get two short girls and one tall building (Empire State, minus the recognizable top).

And of course FAO Schwarz.  But take a tip from me.  Don't try to get in around Christmas.  The line was three blocks long, so we opted for the picture with the cute and tall toy soldier man instead.

The most amazing Starbucks coffee shop in the city - the one in Trump Plaza.  Nothing like a multi-story wall of water with an equally large christmas tree to say HOLIDAY.

But the city always wears her best colors at night.  And THIS is what got all of our juices flowing. Times Square after dark.  Spectacular.

And of course - Radio City. With our own little dancer giving us her streetside kick-line.  (And as an aside, can I just say what a pain in the a$$ blogger video upload is.)

The crowds got thicker and thicker as we moved on.  Really, if we hadn't had Tay#1 to serve like an icebreaker ship, our team of cruisers wouldn't have gotten far at all.  That little girl can weave her way through a NYC crowd like a pro.

Happy Pre-Holiday's everyone!

Rock Center Christmas Tree 2010