7 Office Tips for the Holidays

With the holidays approaching, it’s important to treat your colleagues at work with kindness and respect. This is particularly critical if you are relying on them to 1) cover for you when you’ve ditched your afternoon meetings to go holiday shopping 2) put in a good word for you at year-end bonus time, or 3) wash their hands before baking you Christmas cookies.

Don’t be a victim of some of the pitfalls in the corporate jungle. Instead follow this list of DOs and DON’Ts to ensure you stay in the good graces of your co-workers.

When scheduling a meeting:

  • DO remember to actually invite the key participants. (Unless of course this is a secret strategy to have time to finish designing your Christmas cards while you wait for those participants to “dial into the call”.)
  • DO make certain your guest speaker knows he/she will be expected to say something. You might think preparation is for wimps, but that attitude will get you blacklisted by corporate Santa.
  • DO ensure everyone has time to eat lunch. If the main speaker has back-to-back meetings until 1pm, DON’T force that person to join your crappy meeting at 1pm, because you are trying to accommodate the 2 invitees in other time zones who have better things to do and won’t be attending anyway.
  • If you ignore my above advice about lunch, DO provide food. Failure to do so will ensure your speaker has low blood sugar and is incoherent. Five minutes into the meeting, that person will be deemed incompetent and wheeled away in a stretcher; you will then be expected to take on that person’s responsibilities without the additional pay or title change. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Other holiday activities:

  • DON’T bring a Queen CD box set to the department holiday gift exchange. The only acceptable gifts are alcohol (the harder, the better), gourmet food and gift cards. Anything else will cause you to be labeled not a team player. You will then be banished from participating in any future reindeer games.
  • If you overreact to some data from analytics and cause a corporate emergency in the middle of the holiday party, DON’T suddenly disappear from the premises, leaving everyone else to clean up your mess. They would rather be eating the store-bought chicken and macaroni salad at the potluck lunch. (There’s no budget for an actual company-paid meal.)

  • DO slap the office whistler who insists on whistling holiday classics for the entire month of December and has even started taking requests. You might end up in HR, but rest assured that your colleagues will thank you for taking one for the team.

Birth of the Crappy Christmas Letter

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In honor of the holiday season and with Christmas just around the corner, it seems appropriate to share the story of the birth of the Crappy Christmas Letter.

Instead of getting depressed reading your friends’ holiday letters about their awesome vacations in tropical lands or their toddler’s uncanny ability to speak 5 languages fluently, you can feel good about your life as I regale you with stories of how my plumbing backed up and spilled sewage and toilet paper onto our front lawn. (Refer to blog post #2 “Plumbing and 3D”)

So, gather around a warm fire (unless you’re in California, in which case, don’t start a fire; we’re in a drought and you don’t want to burn down the whole block right before Christmas) and get in the holiday spirit as you enter the world of my crappy life…

“Opening Remarks” – My First Blog Post

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Disclaimer

This blog[1] was my cousin Wayne’s idea. If you find it as ridiculous and nonsensical as I do, then I’ll give you his contact information and you can complain to him directly. Wayne is a writer/director/producer, so if you are indignant enough in your complaint, you might land yourself free tickets to his dinner theater (which is excellent, by the way). In fact, maybe if I complain, he’ll send me free tickets. I’ll give it a shot and let you know how it goes.

Background

In all fairness, I suppose I can’t completely blame my cousin. After all, he was just trying to help me find a more suitable forum for my middle-age ramblings[2]. You see about 10 years ago I had taken to expressing myself (that is, dumping on everyone) through an annual Christmas letter. After all, it was cheaper than therapy. However, as I got older (better said, as my kids got older), my life became increasingly more dramatic – which meant I needed more cheap therapy – which meant longer, crappier Christmas letters. Unfortunately, like with many things, holiday letters have a point of diminishing marginal utility. Statistical testing has shown this point to be about 4 pages. In other words, if you send people holiday letters longer than 4 pages in length, they will find more utility in using it to line their cat’s litter box than in reading it.

I knew I had reached this point when I stopped receiving Christmas cards from people with cats. The true enlightenment came however when I started getting requests to provide my letter in an audio format. This request came exclusively from people who had no cats or litter boxes to line, which meant that they were forced to read it and more than likely would need to take a day off work to get through the whole thing.

I try to be accommodating and took this request seriously. After careful consideration, though, I was forced to admit that an audio version was out of my league. Although I had joined Toastmasters over a year ago, I was doubtful that I could get through a 12 page letter without peppering every pause with at least one “uh”, “um” and, the real signature of failure, “you know”.

The logical solution was to simply send out mid-year update letters. This worked for awhile, but it proved not to be a viable long-term solution. This year the jig was up. It was clear to anyone who read my June update letter that an update to the update letter would be forthcoming. This was mainly due to the fact that we had purchased a house that everyone started affectionately referring to as “The Money Pit”. In Italy they have a saying about the city of Naples[3] which can also be applied to our money pit: “le storie non finiscono mai” which translates to “the stories are never ending.” How many updates to updates can you do before physics steps in and you go back in time? Luckily, right when I found myself on the edge of the swirling black hole of update letters, my cousin entered with his blog idea.

Birth of the Blog

Wayne was a child computer genius. In elementary school he could do pretty much anything with his Tandem computer, and I secretly suspect he may have invented hacking. Consequently, he has automatic credibility regarding anything computer-related, including blogs. In all honesty, it didn’t take much convincing. I was almost immediately on board, since being a blogger clearly meant I could quit my job compiling boring statistical information into PowerPoints and instead could drop my kids off at school and hang out at Starbucks drinking vanilla lattes all day.

Whether or not anyone actually reads this will be seen, but at least trees and everyone in my address book can breathe a sigh of relief.

[1] For disclosure purposes, this may not actually meet the definition of a blog, since I don’t actually know what a blog is. Using the term “blog” makes me feel cool, so I’m going to stick with it.

[2] Yes, I’ve already started to ramble in my 40’s. I’m certain my kids will catch on by the time they’re in high school and start making plans to move abroad…permanently.

[3] On second thought this may not actually be an official Italian saying. Well, in any case, I can personally confirm that at least one Italian has said this. His name was Carlo. Sorry Carlo, I don’t remember your whole name or I’d give you more credit. After all, that was 20 years ago.

Clarence, Pilot of the Shuttle Bus

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I recently went to a work-related conference in Orlando with my colleague Brenda.  We spent our days networking and our evenings blowing money at Downtown Disney and the nearby outlet mall. It was a fun-filled experience all around, even down to the shuttle bus ride back to the airport at the end of the conference.

Now, I realize that one wouldn’t normally think of a shuttle bus ride as entertaining, however Clarence was not your average shuttle driver and this was not your average shuttle ride. Unlike the staid, monotone shuttle driver who escorted us to the hotel when we arrived in Orlando, Clarence saw himself as an airline pilot, flight attendant and tour guide wrapped in one.

As soon as we pulled out of the hotel parking lot, he grabbed the microphone and began giving us what was obviously a practiced, albeit somewhat unintelligible, spiel in broken English. He first explained how to adjust the seat backs to maximize our comfort. Next, he pointed out the lavatories located at the back of the bus, should any of us be unable to make it without a bathroom break for the duration of the ride (20 minutes).

I was certain a demonstration of the correct usage of the oxygen masks was forthcoming, just in case the cabin should lose pressure once we reached cruising altitude. Instead, Clarence skipped the safety tips and moved on straight to the amenities, namely that there was a roll of paper towels available for our use. Unfortunately, he failed to indicate the location of said roll, but much to my relief, when I voiced concern about our ability to handle spills or other paper-towel-necessitating-disasters without this key piece of information, a fellow passenger quickly came to the rescue pointing out that the roll of paper towels was located on top of Clarence’s jacket, behind the driver’s seat.

Having covered the availability of the paper towels, Clarence next discussed the route to the airport…in excruciating detail. He recited each street and freeway we would be using, reminding me of a human navigation system. He even pointed out interesting local sights, such as the back of the Orlando Convention Center. Clarence definitely had my iPhone’s Siri beat. Or was it Suri? Jet lag was getting the better of me, since I couldn’t figure out the difference between my cell phone information system and Tom Cruise’s daughter.

Surely, like any good pilot, after walking us through the route, Clarence would next provide us with a report of the weather at our destination 11 miles away. Nope; to my disappointment, he left this part out, forcing me to come to my own conclusion that the weather was likely not notably different at the airport than it was at the hotel.

In place of a weather report, he instead made sure to advise us at least 3 times of the location of the rental car return (across from Terminal A). This proved somewhat befuddling as we were all on the shuttle bus, because we had no rental car. On the other hand, maybe he felt the airport rental car return is an Orlando hot spot that everyone should see. Brenda and I wondered if we should check it out.

As we approached the airport and the tarmac came into view, our trusty pilot took the time to address possible concerns we might have about flight delays. He promptly declared that our flights would all be departing on time. This was not based on any communication with the airport control tower, but rather, due to the fact that 1) he saw no planes lined up on the runway and 2) it wasn’t raining. While we appreciated his efforts to reassure us, it was not clear to either Brenda or me if this prediction would hold true in 3 hours, when our flight was actually scheduled for departure.

Shortly before exiting the freeway, Clarence made sure to clarify which lane he planned to turn into (the right lane) and announced twice that he would be using his Fast Pass. While initially neither of us knew what a Fast Pass was, we later discovered that this pass was a critical part of the shuttle experience. This was because it allowed Clarence to enter the shuttle bus drop-off section of the airport terminal. Without this pass, who knows where we’d end up. Most likely the rental car return.

Once we were safely through the Fast Pass gates, he informed us that his goal was to park in either of his favorite spaces, B21 or B22. With his passion and attention to detail, I was concerned about how he might react if both of these spaces were occupied. Would he completely melt down and go on a tirade about the inadequacy of spaces B1 – B20 and B23 – B30? To my relief, space B21 was free, and we were spared emotional outburst.

After the bus was parked, Clarence handed us our luggage and we made our way to check-in. Turning the corner I saw long lines at the TSA checkpoint and gulped audibly;  TSA appeared to be the real local hot spot. That said, noting the grumpy faces of the staff as I showed my ID and boarding pass, I doubted they would let us take any selfies at the body scan machine. Nonetheless, the security pat down definitely had the rental car return beat. I walked away thinking Clarence’s spiel could use a few updates.

First Day of School – My Epic Fail

 

The beginning of a new school year is full of unknowns. For instance:

  • How much homework will my child get? In other words, at what time do I have to start nagging in order for the homework to be completed by bedtime?
  • Will my child still be obsessed with becoming the Olympic tetherball gold medalist and resume begging me twice a day to install a tetherball court in the backyard? Everyone knows you can’t downplay the importance of home training for future Olympians.
  • Will the class bully give my kid the finger as a “back to school” greeting? Yes, this actually does happen. Just ask Elizabeth’s buddy Dominic who was the recipient of one such middle finger.

Yet, as I found out this year, the biggest and scariest unknown is whether I will be taken down by my own mental decrepitude on the primary school playground…and drag an unsuspecting first grader with me.

My kids were brimming with excitement yesterday, the first day of school. It was their opportunity to finally see all the friends with whom I had miserably failed to organize play dates during the summer. Furthermore, since they are still young enough to like to be seen with me, they love the fact that on this day and this day only, parents are allowed to accompany their children onto campus.

After the first day, of course, things resume to normal, which usually means pushing the kids out of the car without coming to a complete stop in order to make my 8:30 am meeting. This is the real reason I bought them helmets and knee pads a few years back; the scooters were just a cover.

Upon arriving on campus the first day, the protocol is to go with your child to his/her assigned teacher’s spot on the playground and line up in an orderly fashion. The teachers then make their way down their respective lines and introduce themselves personally to each child. I love this and find it to be a very warm and welcoming touch. This is, in fact, much better treatment than you generally receive when you start a new job in the corporate world, where it is not uncommon to spend the first two weeks spinning your wheels in a futile attempt to:

  1. locate the bathroom
  2. find a chair that’s not broken
  3. determine how to effectively gag the person who whistles loudly outside your door all day long
  4. obtain access to a computer so that you can meet the deadlines you know you’ll have if you can ever figure out who you report to

Because Elizabeth had to go to the upper grade playground for her meet and greet and Corinne had to go to the primary grade playground for hers, Thomas and I decided to divide and conquer. He took Elizabeth, and I took Corinne. Taking Corinne’s hand, we made our way to the appropriate line and took our places. Soon after, I saw a familiar face approach and take the place in line behind us. I turned and gave Connor a big smile and warm greeting.

Now, Connor is a shy boy who cried every day last year when his mom dropped him off at kindergarten. Since it appeared that his mom had ditched him this morning to accompany his little brother to pre-K, my maternal instincts took over. I peppered him with compliments, telling him how brave he was and commenting on how much he had grown over the summer. When it was clear that I had managed to coax Connor out of his shell in a matter of minutes, which was record time for this kid, I beamed with pride.

It was right at this point, where Connor and I had established a true rapport and were ready to face the day united, that I heard Corinne shout out excitedly in the other direction, “Hi Connor!” I turned my head and, sure enough, the real Connor had arrived.

I looked back at Fake Connor. Fake Connor looked at me. We both took another look at Real Connor. It had all become clear to me. Halfway through my conversation with “Connor”, Corinne had asked me who the kid was that I was talking to. I brushed off her silly question, because it was obvious that she had suffered summer amnesia and forgotten what her classmate looked like. But it was I, not Corinne, with the brain decay.

Once the truth had set in, I bowed down in utter defeat and asked Fake Connor to identify himself, for his sake and mine. He shook his head in true, first-grader pity and told me his name was Cody, and he was new to the school.

As Karma would have it, I ran into Real Connor’s mom a few minutes later. She had in fact ditched her son to take his brother to pre-K. After a quick tallying of pros and cons, I decided to reveal the morning’s prior events to her before someone else ratted me out. After all, I could not be certain how many witnesses there were to my mental downfall, or if Cody was inclined to keep this little misunderstanding to himself. Besides, I was also fairly certain that Corinne could not be trusted with such sensitive information.

As I gave Real Connor’s mom the play-by-play, she laughed sympathetically. However, I could tell she was simultaneously wracking her brain to figure out which medication she should suggest to me.

I think I would have preferred it if she would have just given me the finger.

Preparation for Parenthood

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There seems to be a general consensus that having pets is a precursor to parenthood and somehow prepares you for the experience. While I admit there is some validity to this concept, in my experience it is not completely true.

Yes, like kids, pets do steal your food and trash your house beyond recognition. However, unlike your offspring, your tween pets don’t usually talk back to you when you say something they find offensive or stomp their feet and slam the door to express their frustration at the fact that you don’t believe they’ve really brushed their teeth.

I actually found my wedding to be better preparation for parenthood. This might not be an obvious connection but hear me out.

Much like parenthood, a wedding is full of surprises. For both of these pivotal life events, you plan for a year and yet, despite your efforts to coordinate everything perfectly, you quickly learn that nothing actually turns out the way you had anticipated.

Here are some detailed comparisons to illustrate my point:

Wedding: Drunk “professional” photographer takes goofy, off-center pictures.

Parenthood: Kids figure out how to bypass your phone security to take inappropriate pictures of you in the dressing room at TJ Maxx.

Wedding: The insulation at the church is so poor that you and the entire wedding party have sweat running down your faces, leaving you with expensive pictures that are off-center (see above point) and unattractive. Even Photoshop can’t save them.

Parenthood: You can’t post selfies without people asking if you’re feeling ok.

Wedding: Pastor realizes there is not enough bread for Communion and secretly sends the Best Man to the grocery store in the middle of the ceremony.

Parenthood: When tucking her in, your child informs you that she is assigned to bring the caramel topping to the class ice cream party the next day. You drag your husband out of bed and send him to the grocery store.

Wedding: You keep getting whisked away during dinner and miss out on the delicious buffet you paid to enjoy.

Parenthood: You come from work starving. As you approach the second hour of helping your child prepare for her math test, you start wondering if they sell edible flash cards.

Wedding: Wedding cake mix-up has you and hubby sharing carrot cake rather than your specially-selected favorite marble cake.

Parenthood: Lean Cuisine on Saturday night sounds good; no actual cooking is required! If you buy 4 microwaves, you can have everyone’s dinner ready at the same time.

Wedding: Wedding coordinator forgets to have you throw the bouquet, ensuring no single people at the reception will ever tie the knot.

Parenthood: Two-year old daughter throws epic tantrum at Hometown Buffet, ensuring no single patrons will ever have children.

Wedding: Evening ends with a trip to the local bar.

Parenthood: Evening ends with a trip to the local bar.

So, clearly my wedding prepared me better for parenthood than did my pet rabbits. That said, the rabbits did teach me some helpful parenthood coping strategies. Next time Elizabeth exclaims loudly “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND”, I won’t freak out. Instead, I’ll stare at her blankly for a moment, and then I’ll hop past her haughtily on my way to chew on the sofa.

Opening Remarks

IMG_3231 - CopyDisclaimer

This blog[1] was my cousin Wayne’s idea. If you find it as ridiculous and nonsensical as I do, then I’ll give you his contact information and you can complain to him directly. Wayne is a writer/director/producer, so if you are indignant enough in your complaint, you might land yourself free tickets to his dinner theater (which is excellent, by the way). In fact, maybe if I complain, he’ll send me free tickets. I’ll give it a shot and let you know how it goes.

Background

In all fairness, I suppose I can’t completely blame my cousin. After all, he was just trying to help me find a more suitable forum for my middle-age ramblings[2]. You see about 10 years ago I had taken to expressing myself (that is, dumping on everyone) through an annual Christmas letter. After all, it was cheaper than therapy. However, as I got older (better said, as my kids got older), my life became increasingly more dramatic – which meant I needed more cheap therapy – which meant longer, crappier Christmas letters. Unfortunately, like with many things, holiday letters have a point of diminishing marginal utility. Statistical testing has shown this point to be about 4 pages. In other words, if you send people holiday letters longer than 4 pages in length, they will find more utility in using it to line their cat’s litter box than in reading it.

I knew I had reached this point when I stopped receiving Christmas cards from people with cats. The true enlightenment came however when I started getting requests to provide my letter in an audio format. This request came exclusively from people who had no cats or litter boxes to line, which meant that they were forced to read it and more than likely would need to take a day off work to get through the whole thing.

I try to be accommodating and took this request seriously. After careful consideration, though, I was forced to admit that an audio version was out of my league. Although I had joined Toastmasters over a year ago, I was doubtful that I could get through a 12 page letter without peppering every pause with at least one “uh”, “um” and, the real signature of failure, “you know”.

The logical solution was to simply send out mid-year update letters. This worked for awhile, but it proved not to be a viable long-term solution. This year the jig was up. It was clear to anyone who read my June update letter that an update to the update letter would be forthcoming. This was mainly due to the fact that we had purchased a house that everyone started affectionately referring to as “The Money Pit”. In Italy they have a saying about the city of Naples[3] which can also be applied to our money pit: “le storie non finiscono mai” which translates to “the stories are never ending.” How many updates to updates can you do before physics steps in and you go back in time? Luckily, right when I found myself on the edge of the swirling black hole of update letters, my cousin entered with his blog idea.

Birth of the Blog

Wayne was a child computer genius. In elementary school he could do pretty much anything with his Tandem computer, and I secretly suspect he may have invented hacking. Consequently, he has automatic credibility regarding anything computer-related, including blogs. In all honesty, it didn’t take much convincing. I was almost immediately on board, since being a blogger clearly meant I could quit my job compiling boring statistical information into PowerPoints and instead could drop my kids off at school and hang out at Starbucks drinking vanilla lattes all day.

Whether or not anyone actually reads this will be seen, but at least trees and everyone in my address book can breathe a sigh of relief.

[1] For disclosure purposes, this may not actually meet the definition of a blog, since I don’t actually know what a blog is. Using the term “blog” makes me feel cool, so I’m going to stick with it.

[2] Yes, I’ve already started to ramble in my 40’s. I’m certain my kids will catch on by the time they’re in high school and start making plans to move abroad…permanently.

[3] On second thought this may not actually be an official Italian saying. Well, in any case, I can personally confirm that at least one Italian has said this. His name was Carlo. Sorry Carlo, I don’t remember your whole name or I’d give you more credit. After all, that was 20 years ago.