Friday, May 30, 2008

Going Retro

They say communication can be challenging when Mercury is retrograde.

When communication is how one make's one's living, well... suffice it to say that good old Mercury might account for the fact that I've felt like I've been swimming through jello for days -- all elbows-out action, bone-rattling fatigue but barely any progress to show for it.

Mercury's winged foot has been kicking my butt all week!

Although I have to say, I have some pretty awesome people in my life right now. The psychological support brought on by the idea of "I've got your back" and just knowing other people sympathize and can help out and give advice when you're feeling swamped is good for shoring up the emotional resources needed to get over the hump that stands between you and progress on the to-do list.

It's hard for me to ask for help and I've come to understand that's a character flaw. Playing nice with others while being a responsible, self-sufficient worker - with a heaping helping of creative idea wrangling - has always been my modus operandi.

But if I'm not careful, it degrades into the worst form of perfectionism-plagued procrastination. Can't do it perfect, so it's not worth starting now.

That turns into a major problem when there's lots to do and lots to learn.

So I'm about to go nose-down into planning mode, working on a few things that will make next week awesome and give me a leg up on some projects that have been looming.

I always hated those aphorisms of "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail" and others of that ilk. But I have to admit, there's some truth to it in some cases.

What do you do to pull yourself out of a retrograde rut?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Short-Week Scramble

It has been a whirlwind of a week, let me tell you... This sculpture depicts what I've felt like the past few days. The off-kilter-ness, the swirling, feeling caught in a net. If only for the swarm of butterflies, it would be a perfect metaphor.
When the long weekend was upon us, I was all a-twitter. Three days! Of blissful weather and lots of time to luxuriate in it, with minimal commitments. Ah.

But I'd forgotten the dirty little secrets of those long weekends - that they result in shorter weeks. And the deadlines? Feh, they just keep pilin' on!

So cramming 40 hours into 4 days is harder than I remember it. When was that last holiday, again?

I'm just pressing on, though. Friday's almost here, baby, and I can just imagine all the grilling that's going to happen this weekend. Even if it rains, we're covered.

Oh, yeah.
What are you doing this weekend?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Brownies as a Differentiator

Now, I can make homemade brownies. But certain people in my family prefer the gooey fakeness that is a specific type of grocery-store brownie covered in frosting.

And yes, I admit: when they're in the house, I eat 'em, too.

So with a barbeque on tap for Memorial Day weekend, I set out to go to said grocery store to purchase these brownies.

In response to ever-increasing competition in my area with other, newer, better, more gourmet-ified grocery stores, this store has been undergoing major construction for what seems like a good six months or more. So every time I've stopped by, I leave in frustration because nothing is where it should be and nobody's around to help you figure it out.

But I forged on, knowing that a certain someone was itching for some frosted-brownie deliciousness.

My plan included, as a good counter-balance, baking a homemade Cooking Light lemon cake as a dessert alternative for whomever preferred citrusy sugar to chocolatey awesomeness.

So I get to the grocery store, bracing myself for a construction nightmare, when I find that lo! The construction has abated. It seems - dare I say? - finished, or reasonably close to it.

There's a new food court (why a grocery store needs to have a food court is really beyond me, but I've lost that battle), a facelifted modern design that shows they've been reading Grocery Retailer Today or Today's Grocery Shopper or whatever the industry publication is noting that people want sophisticated color schemes and cool fonts telling them where they'll find their artisanal-style bread.

Despite the construction being finished, the overall effect is disappointing. Because they still have the same bad selection of groceries as before. The same inferior-level produce. The same haphazard displays. Only now the aisles seem narrower, and people have to squeeze to get by if someone is stopping in the aisle to select a can of soup or load up on Cheez Doodles.

Still, I make my way to the bakery department.

A little history: This store used to be a Genuardi's store, a locally owned chain in the Philadelphia suburbs that emphasized fresh produce and friendly service. A few years ago, they were swallowed up by the Safeway behemoth and almost overnight, the quality of nearly every product I shopped for there had degraded into less-than-stellar offerings.

Still, with the new facelift, I thought I'd give them a try.

So I ventured to the new bakery section, to fetch the pan of frosted brownies I came there to get.

I see a couple of stray packs of three gourmet brownies, but no frosted. Hm.

A bakery employee zooms by with a cart full of product and starts stocking, so I ask her where I'd find the brownies.

Well, you can predict from this long preamble what happened next: Genuardi's no longer carries their delicious frosted brownies. The employee proceeds to tell me that many customers have demanded they bring them back.

Apparently, this person tells me, it was decided to discontinue the frosted brownies, "because no other stores in the area were carrying them." Apparently, it also takes six months for a new product (the tri-piece gourmet version) to be phased out and a new product phased in.

But this isn't a new product - it's an old product! A standby that seemed to do perfectly well!

And another thing... Doesn't having a different product from everyone else give you an edge on the competition, then? Last time I checked, differentiation was a good thing.

I do not understand this. A product that's popular, that they have cornered the market on, they decide to do away with?!

What is it with all this me-too thinking? Carve out a niche for crying out loud! Take a stand, Genuardi's/Safeway!

Friday, May 23, 2008

How to Start Your Day Right

Squeeze a little extra sleep past the wake-up music drizzling out of the iPod.

Arise to sunshine dappling the trees - a welcome change from rainy gray starts to last several days.

Window shades up, light fills bedroom, dancing across honey-colored hardwood floors.

Read random Real Simple article about herb compatible garden plant pairings.

Saunter down to end of driveway to pick up newspaper.

Catch sight of flower beds, with past-their-prime bulb foliage reminding you to plant annuals.

Consider riot of purple and gold pansies, reminiscent of your high school colors.

Decide on petunias, purple wave, to introduce explosive unruly color.

Make mental note to stop by fairy-tale plant nursery, the one with the shady inspiration garden you can walk through on the way in to the retail area.


Add toast to the usual cereal regime of breakfast, so you can use that jam you like.

Take the few minutes to make tea, too - decide it's worth the effort.

Savor the vanilla rooibos flavor.

Finish morning primp routine and find jacket you love is back from cleaners.

Jump in car and drive two miles to work - in heavy traffic, but still easy on the gasoline budget.


Walk into office building, with the knowledge that your to-do list will flex and grow and shrink as the demands of the day require, but that you're doing your best.

Photo: My father-in-law's gardening talents at work

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Father's Day Gift Idea #1

A former coworker of mine has literally carved a niche out for himself in the customized marshmallow-toasting equipment market, with Marshmallow Chef Sticks.

His invention got the attention of the author of Gadget Nation, a book about wacky gadgets, and his Marshmallow Chef Sticks are now featured prominently in the tome.

No barbeque setup is complete without a pair!

Think of the look on your Dad's face when he sees these sticks - it's like giving him carte blanche to be a kid again, toasting marshmallows and having a grand-old time.

Not that my own father needs any excuse to act like a child, as he would be the first to point out. (Hee-hee!)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

State of Affairs

Stuff that is on my desk, but probably should not be:

1. Expired Frida Kahlo exhibit ticket from March.
2. Spectacularly gorgeous wrapping paper from a gift a friend gave me last week.
3. Golf balls.
4. Trouser socks.
5. One book I've finished, two others I've abandoned.
6. Old sudokus.
7. Three new crochet hooks.
8. Stray photo from my First Holy Communion party, where I look not so much holy, but more as if I'm plotting revenge.
9. Dead PDA.
10. Phone number of cleaning service.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

41 Grattitudes

Taking a cue from Ariel at Electrolicious, I'm capping the celebration of my birthday week with this list of 41 things for which I am grateful this year.

1. My husband, who tries to understand me even when it's a lot of work
2. My parents, each for their own gifts
3. My sister, brother-in-law, and their kids, who are a riotous whirl of pandemonium - a party packaged in a single family form
4. My friends all of whom have broad shoulders to lean on and make me smile
5. The way the light comes into the downstairs windows in the morning
6. The lush canopy of trees that envelops our yard in the summer
7. Grilled sausage
8. Chocolate in various forms, be it truffle, solid and bite-worthy block or cake
9. Color and the way it evokes different feelings
10. Fuzzy lambswool-lined slippers
11. The feeling that comes from doing good
12. Bloggers who inspire me to write better or more regularly
13. Mentors
14. Splendid serendipity
15. Commonalities
16. Extemporaneous commentary
17. Ephemera, as both a word and a concept
18. Colorful graphics
19. Well-told stories
20. Flights of fancy
21. Stationery stores
22. Musings
23. Connections
24. Cartoons
25. Alliteration
26. Unmitigated joy
27. Laughter
28. Insight
29. Smooth-writing pens
30. Confidence
31. Backstory
32. Clean slates
33. Fresh laundry
34. Perfectly timed hugs
35. Reading before bed
36. Surprisingly good movies
37. Energized discussion
38. Meetings of minds
39. Course correction
40. Turquoise
41. Understanding

Saturday, May 17, 2008

IM is Overrated

While I see how it can be beneficial in short-and-sweet doses - "Ready for lunch?" "Make it 200 pixels." "There's doughnuts in the break room." - for the most part, I think IM is overrated.

In the office, that is.

All the research points to the efficiency of multi-tasking being a myth. The worst thing for productivity. The bane of our lives in the 2000's.

And what does IM do? It facilitates constant interruption, the feeding of the never-satisfied, ravenously hungry, 21st-century, need-it-now, Google-dependent mind.

But it doesn't increase productivity, I'm convinced. At least for me.

Working on a complicated task, learning the ropes and putting names with faces during the first week at a new job can foster enough multi-tasking overload on their own.

Add in an onslaught of IM that just ratchets up the strain and breaks the concentration. Or at least, requires you start over at square one because the train of thought has been thoroughly derailed.

I speak from experience - but not at my new job.

At my new job, IM is verboten. Yes!

You'd think that would lead to email overload. And I'm sure at some times, it does.

But mostly, it leads to face-to-face conversations. Or a quick call to get an answer. Done and done.

And in the process, you get to know your colleagues just a little bit better.

Sure, there are times that I've missed it over the past few weeks. Technology can definitely help in many situations.

But largely? It's been a breath of fresh air not to be pecked-at by a constant stream of IMs from people I barely know, obscured by a digital veneer.

And so far? Really getting to know these people has been one of the most positive work experiences of my life.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Pleasantly Surprised

You know when you are looking forward to something, and it's even better than you expected, and it takes you by surprise?

Well, my new job has been like that.

I've met dozens of people who are interested in making innovation happen - and who value my contribution to the conversation!

Smart, funny people who like cake.

And flowers! Really, really nice ones - on my first day.

There's a steep learning curve, for sure, but I'm climbing it steadily every day.

Already, halfway through week 2, I've made connections and breakthroughs and the wheels are turning with plenty of ideas for the future.

Do I like this job? Past experience makes me want to reserve judgment for a while... Once burned, twice shy and all that.

But the optimist in me says that all signs point to Yes.

My Chinese-food fortune the day I started?

"Take advantage of your great imagination. It will serve you well."

Oh, yeah!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Creative Accounting

While I was growing up, stressing over one of life's little problems, my Mom was always there with a hug as I cried on her shoulder.

As a child, I think I was a mystery to her - and heck, I bet I'm just as enigmatic as an adult. But she always listens to me, if somewhat incredulously, over the things I worry about, live through, deal with.

So many times, after hearing me spill my guts, and offering advice, she'll ask incredulously, "Where did you come from?"

I mean, she knew the mechanics, of course. She was simply marveling at how different I was from her and my father.

Sure, I have her hands. And picked up many of her mannerisms along the way.

Among the things I'm forever grateful for is this: It's my Mom who taught me to read and write when I was two, setting the stage for my career.

A fellow lefty, she showed me the right way to hold my pencil so I was never vexed by the the left-side spirals in a notebook.

Over the years, I know I must have tested every last nerve in her body as she tried in vain to get me to mimic her Palmer-perfect penmanship earned refined during her years of Catholic school education. When done quickly, letting words pour out onto the page, a sheet full of my own writing resembles a ransom note more than lines written by the same person.

Little did she know, she'd created a monster.

As a toddler, I'd come downstairs - every morning for a month - toting a pretend schoolbag, declaring I was on my way to school.

So she threw up her hands and found me a preschool. Which was one of the most creative places I'd ever had the pleasure to spend time in my entire life.

That's another theme with my Mom, too - tapping into creativity. She used to sew a lot, obsessed with tactile textiles and beautiful patterns. These days, she quilts, making color schemes and poring over detailed designs at shows.

I get my obsession over materials from her. With her, it's fabrics for quilting. With me, it's beads and pieces of silver that catch the light.

So thank you, Mom, for all the creative support to do my own thing. Even when it seems unthinkable.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

(And if you're a Mom, Happy Mother's Day to you, too!)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Working for a Living

While it can be a lot of little things that chip away at your satisfaction over time, I believe there's always a precise moment where you realize you're in the wrong job. At least that's been the case for me.

It could occur any time.

Making the connection that there's a disconnect between one's values and the organization's.

Feeling the daily struggle to do your best work, knowing that the tasks aren't aligned with your career goals - and knowing there's a better match somewhere else.

Hearing a statement that cuts to the core of the problem, articulating the ennui you've struggled so hard to put your finger on.

Whatever the situation, there's a moment of clarity encased in glass, "Yes! That's exactly why this isn't working!"

I've been through my share of light bulb moments - and job searches.

This last search was the most satisfying because after many years, I absolutely know myself. It's taken a while to believe the results of the inventory, but I know my talents, I know my interests, and all that was left was finding where my skills are put to best use.

People talk about being your best self, your most authentic. Knowing yourself is paramount. Too often we struggle along, trying to make things right, when the wrong is in the fit.

Trying something else on for size might involve a small shift, like changing roles or even departments. Or it could require a bigger commitment, like changing the organization you work for entirely.

But change is good. And like the cliches say, the only constant is change, these days.

I'm about to embark on a job change that on the face of it sounds like a perfect match. Room for growth, a chance to apply hard-won knowledge, and to take advantage of opportunities for learning.

At the same time, I'm bringing a new attitude to work, ensuring that I make time for the other things in life that are important to me, that give life balance.

That's definitely been challenging in the past. But that's what's good about the future - the future is unwritten.

It's an exciting time - scary, but good scary!