My Grandma’s Lasting Gift

My Grandma T made memories for her family. She made real, tangible memories with her own hands, loads of colorful yarn, her crochet hooks and a lot of love.

Birthdays and wedding showers brought stripe-patterned afghans meant to keep Grandma T’s loved ones warm on cold nights. Christmases were sure to bring new pairs of mittens, playful winter hats or long, bright scarves. My grandma was a product of the Great Depression and she found ways to use up or reuse everything in her house. Some of her creations were a crazy mix of colors because she wanted to use up all the remnants of her yarn supplies. Her gifts often came wrapped up inside empty cereal boxes or round oatmeal cartons.

When my siblings and I were growing up, there wasn’t a lot of money to go around in our family. New things came to us only on special occasions. We nearly crawled out of our skin with anticipation of birthday and Christmas gifts. And like all kids, our wish lists included many of the latest and greatest toys, games, music or clothing. If we were lucky, we might get one or two of those wishes. But Grandma T didn’t give the latest and greatest kinds of things when she gave her gifts. And that was just fine with us. We adored Grandma T’s  homemade creations because we adored her. Many cold winter days, we could be found fighting over which colorful hats and mittens belonged to whom.

Lately, it’s been hard to sit at a desk all day at work. The cold outside air seems to seep inside the office, under doors and through the windows. Sometimes I get distracted from my work by the chill I can’t seem to fend off. A few of my coworkers keep a sort of cape at work for this very reason. I’ve seen this kind of cape in stores. It’s a sort of designer blanket, made so that one can get away with wrapping up in a blanket in the office, without looking like one is wrapped up in a blanket. I’ve considered buying one. I’m just really reluctant to spend twenty-five, thirty dollars or more on something I’ll only use in the office. So I simply hope I’ll be absorbed enough in my projects that I don’t notice the cold. Or I try to remember to put on extra layers of clothing. Or I forget and suffer.

A few weeks ago, I was staring at all of the clothes in my closet, trying to decide what to wear. At the far side of the closet are things that are worn infrequently, or things that aren’t mine but couldn’t be parted with for one reason or another. Brad’s high school graduation gown is there. We had to buy it before the years when the school decided to just rent them. Kacey’s prom dresses are there too.

There was something else at that far end of the closet. It has been there for years. I’ve looked at it a million times and can’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before now. It was one of the many memories that Grandma T made for me while she was still here with us – a cream-colored, lovingly crafted cape. My memory might be fuzzy on exactly when she gave this to me, but I know I was young, in my grade school years, I’m sure. And I know I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I didn’t wear it often, either because I was pretty much a tomboy who would rather wear her Smokey the Bear sweatshirt, or because my mom was afraid I’d ruin the cape while in the midst of my tomboy pursuits.  Years ago, after I was married and living in a house of my own, Mom gave the cape to me to keep. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, but Grandma T had made it for me. She was long gone by that time and I couldn’t stand the idea of giving it up. So it has hung in the closet, unused all of these years, until that day a few weeks ago.

I pulled it out and wrapped it around my shoulders. The cape had been made for a child, but it was still plenty big enough to wrap around my adult shoulders and cover my adult arms. I knew how I would keep warm at work whenever the chills set in from then on.

Just the perfect size for keeping warm while working at the computer

Just the perfect size for keeping warm while working at the computer

And it has "arm" holes to free up my hands while staying wrapped up

And it has “arm” holes to free up my hands while staying wrapped up

There are so many times I’ve been reminded of and missed my Grandma T. She loved her family so dearly. She was so quick to dole out praise and so generous with her heart. She was “home” to all of her daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. Even as kids, the world could be such a difficult place, but when we were in the company of our grandparents, everything seemed simple and easy. How could we not miss Grandma T every single day? There are times I still hear her calling me Honey Girl and I still miss how she wrapped her arms around me and hugged me so tightly. Now I have a daily reminder of Grandma T to put a smile on my face. And I’ll bet she’d love the fact that her tomboy granddaughter is finally so happy to wear the beautiful cape she made.

A few of Grandma T’s mittens, hats and scarves still occupy space in the winter-wear bins in our front closet. They rarely if ever get worn. Some of her afghans are still folded up neatly in a cabinet in the family room. They are too short to cover our long bodies, so we opt for the newer, heavier fleece blankets instead. But all these years later, the cape is finally, happily worn!

And the sun came out

The weatherman was saying last night that a big snowstorm was on its way. Yesterday, we enjoyed the one “warm-up” we were going to see in January and already, he was telling us that the weather was going back in the wrong direction. He pointed at a map of the state that was dotted with colors. The big, blue blob moving over our area signified snow; lots of it. He said this morning’s commute was going to be a mess. I only half believed him. The weather has been a presence lately, but you just never know when it will decide not to live up to the hype. Figured I’d get up at the usual time and if a snowstorm was in progress, I’d skip doing yoga and just go straight to the shower. If there was no snow, I’d exercise and go about my normal routine.

When the alarm went off, I shuffled to the family room to look out the big front window and see whether the weather guy had been right. I couldn’t quite decide. Under the glow of the street light, I could see it was definitely snowing. The flakes were tiny but the snowfall was dense and it was coming down fast. Looking across the front yard to the street though, there didn’t appear to be much accumulation. But I knew it wouldn’t take much to mess up the morning drive. So straight to the shower I went.

Within the hour, I had showered, fed the dog, prodded Jake to get up and  get a head start on his own commute. I unloaded the dishwasher, drank a cup of coffee, blow-dried my hair and applied some make up. The last thing I needed to do was make a lunch and while I was doing it, I kept an eye on the falling snow. It was obvious. The weatherman had been dead-on.

I was in my car and on my way a good forty minutes earlier than usual. The roads were covered with snow, the division of lanes indecipherable. Traffic on the freeway crawled. It took me over an hour to get to work and the sky remained dusky; no hint of the sun. My windshield wipers struggled to keep the window clear of melting snow and ice. The defroster blasted on high but couldn’t keep up with the crusts of slush and ice forming on the other side. Several times, I rolled down the side window and reached out to wipe off the snow that kept building upward where the lower portion of the driver’s side wiper was failing. (I have got to get some new wipers!) Clumps of snow flung backwards beneath the tires of the cars that surrounded me.

Driving in these conditions stresses me out. This winter, I’ve seen more stalled vehicles, spin-outs, crashes and rollovers than I can ever remember. Earlier this week, there was a car in the ditch, upside down. The scene moved along outside the passenger window in slow motion while a state trooper pulled over to help. That kind of thing freaks me out. And there are always a handful of drivers that think they’re invincible, driving faster than the flow of traffic, cutting off others, zipping from one lane to another with little regard for anyone else. I’m so tired of feeling like I’m putting my life on the line every day just to get to work.

I couldn’t breathe easy until I was safely parked in my company lot. I felt worn out before I’d even begun my work day. So when I walked in, before I took off my jacket, I decided I was not going to carry that weight around with me for the rest of my day. I poked my head into my coworker, Lori’s cube and with more enthusiasm than I really felt, I smiled big and said, “Isn’t this a beautiful day? Don’t you just love these Minnesota winters?”

Playing right along, Lori exclaimed, “Oh, yes! The snow is so pretty! What a lovely day this is!”

And then we laughed and rolled our eyes and went off to work. But honestly, I felt lighter and brighter than I had just a few moments earlier. The snow continued to fall outside while I immersed myself in my job. And when it was time to go home, the sun was shining fiercely, casting dramatic tree shadows over a new, crusty layer of snow. And it was cold again. Really cold. But the sun was shining. Not for much longer. But it was shining. Sometimes, that’s all you can ask.

Sun 2

Confidence fueled by confidence

Twice in recent weeks, I had an opportunity to observe the way one of our kids handled and reacted to a particular challenge in life. Two different problems. Two different kids. In one case, Mark and I found ourselves later remarking on how well one kid handled a particular issue. We were impressed with the fact that we were welcomed to a discussion about it and how maturely the problem was handled. We offered up some opinions, but no advice was really needed. The problem was handled in a way that met with this kid’s comfort level. As I thought about that child’s ability to deal – with so many things – the words poise and grace came to mind. I said as much to Mark, proud that our kids have grown up so well in so many ways. He said he wondered how long it would be before this particular kid lost that positive approach and became jaded like the rest of us. I was a bit astonished at his cynicism and said I thought it might be easier to maintain such a healthy attitude without someone insisting that it was pointless.

Second scenario. Another of our young-adult children encountered a minor failure, which was clearly perceived as anything but minor. In spite of assurances that we were not disappointed, in spite of offers for a discussion in the hopes of helping to figure out how to solve this problem, this time, we were met with a person who was clearly embarrassed and wanted to shut us out. This kid wanted anything but to discuss the problem with us and hastily assured us that things could be handled without our input. They can be. But I wish my child didn’t feel the need to go it alone.

In my job, I’m offered constant opportunities to be challenged, to learn and to grow my skills. I truly enjoy the work that I do and am almost always willing to try pushing the boundaries of my knowledge and experience. It’s what makes my job so fulfilling. Today as I was wrapping up an afternoon meeting, the conference room door slowly opened and our CEO poked his head inside.

“I don’t mean to interrupt.” Pointing at me, he continued, “But when you’re done, I need your help.”

“Okay,” I said. There must have been a big question mark on my face. I don’t usually work directly with the CEO, although I have had several random chances over the years and I always know that when he comes looking for help, there’s something interesting ahead.

“I just finished writing my quarterly President’s report,” he explained. “I need someone to proofread and clean it up. You’re good with this stuff. It’ll just take you five minutes. Five minutes is all.”

“Alright. I’ll be done here soon.” I said. “Did you email it to me already?”

“Nah, I thought you could just come sit at my desk and go over it. Really. Five minutes is all you’ll need.”

Proofreading. It’s not the most fun work I can think to do. But I like our CEO. He has the ability to inspire enthusiasm and he seems to have a knack for figuring out the “thing” about his employees. One person might be his go-to design person. Another might be the one he seeks out for sports or movie or political conversation. There’s sure to be a numbers guy and a technology expert. Someone else (like me,) might be the word person, even when (like me,) that person doesn’t have a formal education focused on words, grammar, and punctuation. But it’s amazing how willing and able a person might be at a particular skill when someone else expresses utter confidence in their abilities.

I know I can hold my own in the words, grammar and punctuation department. But the funny thing is, we just hired someone whose job it is to be the communications expert. In the shadow of a word expert, I might doubt my abilities to some extent. Yet the CEO came to me. And the guy who gets paid to deal with the company’s words was busy anyway. And so I was in good humor about the whole thing.

After my meeting, I walked over to the big guy’s office and he invited me to have a seat in his chair. Four pages were waiting for my clean-up, which really might not have taken much more than five minutes, but for the fact that the CEO was feeling a bit chatty. It was hard to absorb the words and characters on the screen in front of me while still trying to pay attention to the friendly conversation directed my way.

“Do you speak Spanish?”

“Nope. Not me,” I said. “My daughter  speaks it pretty well. When she was in high school, she would randomly tell me certain things in Spanish and I found I could understand a lot of it. But I can’t speak it.”

“Darn. My daughter’s in Spain for a semester and my wife and I are going to visit. I bought one of those programs that teaches you a foreign language, but I’d like to try speaking with someone else in Spanish and see if I’m getting the hang of it.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I took German in high school.”

“Ah! Sprechen sie Deutch?” he asked. (Do you speak German?)

“Nur ein bisschen,” I admitted. (Only a little.)

I found it impossible to admit that he was distracting me from the work he wanted me to do. He’s the head honcho, after all, and I didn’t want to rub him the wrong way. But I found that if I responded to his commentary a bit distractedly, he’d give me a break long enough for me to make progress on my proofreading duties. While I worked my way through his report, rectifying a complete overuse of dashes and misuse of capitalization, the CEO cleaned up piles of papers on his desk, chatting amiably as he organized. He remarked it was a nice break for him to be forced away from his computer and to have to get things under control around his office.

I asked for clarification on a couple of items. I didn’t want to “correct” something I might be misunderstanding. He assured me that he had faith that I knew what I was doing and could really just go with my instincts on everything. With the CEO having such confidence in my abilities, I really wasn’t worried that I’d drop the ball, even though this report would be making its way to a bunch of big-wigs not long after I was through with it.

self-confidenceIn my job, I often find that a project or challenge doesn’t seem so daunting when someone else clearly has no doubt that I can manage it. When this is the case, I believe in myself so much more than I otherwise might have. It’s amazing what you can achieve when all doubt and insecurity is removed. In fact, I’m pretty certain this is why I could “fight” for weeks trying to find a few promising numbers and rarely worrying that I wouldn’t eventually find the answers I was looking for.

As I think about my kids’ ups and downs, I wonder what we sometimes did right and sometimes did wrong in teaching them to overcome challenges. When faced with a struggle, why was one of them able to manage so effortlessly and without feeling weighed down, while the other wanted only to brush the problem under the rug? Of course, at any time, the tables could turn. And another time, faced with another problem, the kid who seemed so strong this time might end up feeling at a loss. Depending on the challenge, the kid who wanted to run away from this recent problem might impress everyone with an ability to conquer. It makes me wonder if at the first sign of struggle in one of our kids, did we worry so much about that particular weakness that we failed to instill in them an ability to overcome it? Of course as a parent, you constantly try to encourage and lift up your children. But are the words sometimes not enough? Does the doubt sometimes show through, even when you’re trying to keep it at bay? When one displayed any kind of strength, were we so confident in a child that he or she could easily continue to grow and develop that strength without ever looking back?

I wish I’d known it all along, but some things only come with age and experiences. I wish I had been confident enough to believe and pass on to my kids when they were very young, that so much more is possible than you can ever imagine. Every strength and every weakness is not necessarily permanent. Sometimes all you have to do is imagine it to get off on the right foot. It helps to have someone else believe in you. It’s so much easier to believe in your own abilities when someone else sees them inside of you. But ultimately, you really just need to believe in yourself.

When I think of all the people I’ve known and encountered in my years, all of the personality types and different ways I’ve seen people deal with the world, I wonder if when things are so bad, it’s because people just lose hope and any sense of optimism. How much better things might be if everyone had someone to have faith in them.

That feels like something for me to work on. Believing in my own family, the people I love and want to succeed, is pretty easy most of the time. Not always, but more often than not. Others? It’s sometimes easier to just write ‘em off. I’ve been known to tell my sometimes cynical husband that what you expect of someone is often what they’ll give you. Might be good to keep that in mind myself.

Day-tuh!

I had one of these days at work today… the kind of day when… well…

A big part of my job involves working with data, the details of which would be monotonous and boring to most. If you’d tried to sell me on it a few years ago, my response would have been along the lines of “What? NO!” But I enjoy it. I really do.

My company uses data for different purposes, depending on what our clients need. And we’re still sort of new to it all. Sort of. Big picture-wise. But we’re improving and growing every day.

Several weeks ago, one of my clients contacted me and asked if I could prove some specific results of the services we provide. We have all kinds of reports, but this particular result? Well, there’s not an automated way to produce it. But I had a strong feeling that if I could produce it, I could prove something valuable. If I could prove it, this client would be steering several other potential clients in our direction.

I set out to do some research. For the past few weeks, I’ve been filtering data extracts and comparing extracts from one date to the next. I’ve been trying to document the data changes in such a way to show a specific result, in an easy-to-understand manner.

Our staff is stretched a little thin and there are a lot of irons in the fire. My boss mentioned that while my goal was admirable, she didn’t think it was my job to prove what I was trying to prove. She felt bad that there wasn’t a report I could just call up to provide my client, and said she didn’t feel I should have to spend my time trying to find the proof I needed. She insinuated that if I was going to continue working on this, it should be filler work.

data-analysisThis project has been filling every spare moment I’ve had for weeks. And I have put so much effort into things that turned out to be dead-ends. Two days ago, I thought I’d finally hit my mark, only to find another inconsistency that shed doubt on my results. I was ready to throw it all in the trash and pull my hair out.

Thankfully, I have a coworker who is a big picture person. While I know what I can and cannot do with the data, and at times was ready to throw in the towel, she’s an idea person who keeps asking questions until she gets where she wants to be. She kept asking me questions. Some wrong questions. Some right. “Can you do this? Can you do that? If you could find X… would it prove Y?”

All of that trial and error, all of those questions… Today it finally added up to the answer I was looking for! I know… I know there is a way to automate a process to achieve that kind of result, but as of now, it doesn’t exist. And as of today, I found it anyway! I was hoping and praying that this result was the one that I needed and it was.

I feel like I’ve been fighting these past few weeks and I was really beginning to feel like it was all for nothing. And just when I was ready to walk away from the whole thing, I got excited about the project all over again and found exactly what I’ve been looking for. This is exactly the kind of thing that reminds me what it is I love so much about what I do. Kind of geeky, I know. Never would have guessed I had it in me. Feels GREAT!

I still have to polish things up a bit before I send anything to my client. But now I feel confident in the information I’ll be providing and I know my client will be more than pleased to see these results.

So yep! It was that kind of day; the kind that makes me excited to go back to work tomorrow. I am so grateful that I get to do what I do.

Still in a holiday-lazy groove

I had to go back to work today after having the past two days off in honor of the New Year. This morning felt like Monday all over again. And it wasn’t easy getting out of bed. It’s been so cold for the past couple of weeks! I have a blanket, a heavy comforter and a quilt on the bed. Last night I threw a fleece blanket on top for good measure. Mark was gone to work for the night, so I tried to convince one of the dogs to curl up and share some body heat, but when Brad and Heather are home, which they are right now, Lucy forgets I exist and attaches herself like velcro to Heather’s side for the duration of their stay. Dacotah, sick of fighting for attention against Lucy, hung out with me for a while, but soon wandered off to find her own people again.

cold-weather-winter-outdoors-indoors-seasonal-ecards-someecards

Can you tell I’m one of those people who can never get warm? Now I remember why I was in an exercise slump around this time last year. Just the thought of making even the short jaunt from the gym parking lot into the gym in this kind of cold is almost painful. Of course now that Jillian Michaels lives in my DVD player, I can’t use that excuse anymore.

I didn’t exercise this morning, though. I had the best of intentions of going to the gym, but … it was  seriously cold out. Also, I didn’t really sleep much last night. The combination of “kids” home on break from school and work, coming and going, the dogs romping around as long as someone was awake, and Dacotah periodically wandering back in to stick her nose in my face and make sure I was still in my bed, all kept me from getting a solid night of sleep.

I was kind of cranky as I drove to work today. In weather this cold, the roads can be icy even when they don’t look it. But some drivers drive stupid anyway and it annoys me. And then I was thinking about how once I arrived at work, how much I didn’t want to have to deal with an annoying coworker who constantly comes across as such a phony and always manages to push my buttons. I literally prayed as I drove that she would call in sick. No such luck. She showed up to work not long after I arrived.

But I was busy after a couple of days away. There was plenty of catching up to do, several month-end processes to complete and a couple of client “fires” to put out. I barely had a free moment to spare and thankfully, my coworker kept her distance. It also helps that I’ve finally learned to refuse to respond when she initiates conversation over the cubicle wall. If she can’t come address me directly, I’m going to pretend I can’t hear her. It helps.

The day was full enough that it passed quickly. I got everything caught up and under control, enough for me to have one more day off tomorrow. I figured that since the kids are home, I might as well make use of all that PTO time I accumulated over the past year and stretch out the holidays just one more day. So by afternoon, that Monday feeling had passed and the Friday feeling took over.

Sure is going to feel strange to have to work all five days next week. But I think it’ll do me good to get back into a normal routine again.

A New Adventure – Business Travel!

Before yesterday, I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve traveled by airplane. (Hard to believe, isn’t it? But it’s true. I’m a very inexperienced traveler.) So I felt a little anxious when a business client asked me  to come to Pittsburgh for a meeting, along with our company’s Vice President, Brian. I wasn’t nervous so much about the meeting itself. I’ve been the account manager for this client for a couple of years now and I speak regularly by phone with my contacts there. I’m comfy with all of them. What bothered me more was the thought of  navigating airports. I knew I could rely on Brian once we met up at the departure gate. I was just worried about making it that far on my own. In spite of the fact that I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing, I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing. But it all came out well in the end and I have a new experience behind me. I know I could do it again with more confidence, but business travel isn’t going to turn into a regular thing and I’m actually glad for that.

We had plans to travel to and from Pittsburgh all in the same day. I was all set to drive myself to the airport on Tuesday morning and made sure I had a good idea of where I had to go to park and get to a security check-point. Then the day before, my boss mentioned that I might want to check the parking ramp status online before I left home. If the ramp was full, I’d have to drive over to the other terminal and park, then take the light rail back to the main terminal. I tried not to show it, but this information  caused my anxiety level to jump to the next level. She said not to worry, though. I’d probably be fine. But the idea was planted and I worried some more.

Thankfully, Mark offered to drop me off on the morning of my trip and my friend, Tammy said she would pick me up when I returned. I could breathe a little easier knowing I didn’t have to worry about parking or traveling between terminals and trying to make it where I needed to be on time.

Monday night, I went to bed early, hoping for a good night’s sleep before my big meeting. I hadn’t been sleeping much the past week because I pulled a muscle in my back while bowling last week. Every time I turned over in my sleep, a sharp pain would wake me up. I was hoping it would ease up after a week but it hadn’t. Not much. I didn’t sleep but a few hours the night before my trip. It was partly because of my back and partly because I couldn’t turn off my brain enough to get back to sleep once I’d awakened. So I was wide awake and ready to head to the airport at five in the morning. Mark dropped me off and I found the security check point. There was a huge, snaking line of travelers and I went to join them. Two TSA agents were positioned at the entrance of the security area, checking boarding passes. One of them looked at my pass and said, “You have express check-in,” (or something like that.) He pointed to an empty lane along the back of the snaking lanes of travelers. “Just go right through here. You don’t have to take off your shoes or jacket.” I didn’t know why I’d earned this privilege, but I was happy. I breezed through security and was able to figure out pretty easily where my gate was and how to get there. Things were relatively quiet that early in the morning. That wasn’t so hard! I got started reading a book while I waited for Brian to arrive.

The flight to Pittsburgh was uneventful and after watching out the window during takeoff, I went back to reading. We arrived on time and Brian steered us through the airport to the tram. We rode the tram to where the rental car kiosk was and Brian took care of  the necessary details for getting a car. Soon we were on the road and headed to our client’s place of business. Brian paid attention to the GPS directions while I looked out the window at the Pittsburgh landscape. I noticed how some things were so similar to home and others were so very different.

We arrived at our client’s offices and were given a quick tour. We got to put faces to the names and voices of the people we’ve been working with for so long. After lunch at the Spaghetti Warehouse, it was time for business and our three-hour meeting began. I marveled at how different people appeared in person, as opposed to the images I had created in my mind of each one. And I also marveled at how closely the appearance of one person matched the picture I had in my head. One woman impressed me with her knowledge and passion. Another struck me as such a character. She chewed a wad of gum dramatically while she spoke and she had the biggest, hot pink water jug I’ve ever seen in my life! I swear, it was the size of an ice cream pail! The meeting itself was good, with nothing earth-shattering to discuss and we were simply able to affirm that the business relationship is strong, our client is happy and we’ll continue to grow and move forward with the services we provide. Our client had scheduled the meeting to go until four o’clock. We had a 5:23 pm departure.

Someone forgot to consider the effect of rush-hour traffic on our travel time back to the airport.

A wrong turn added another ten minutes to our drive and soon we were racing out of Pittsburgh and watching the clock while Brian commented that we were really pushing our time limits. I sat in the passenger seat thinking how much I didn’t want to spend the night in Pittsburgh. I was exhausted and anxious to get home to my family. Brian did his best to get us to the airport without drawing the attention of any law enforcement officials. We finally arrived and I checked the clock again. We still had maybe a half hour until take-off. Brian pulled into the rental car return and asked me where I thought he was supposed to leave the car. “You’re asking the wrong person,” I said. “Remember? I don’t get out much.” Finally, he pulled up in line behind another car and we got out. He asked me if he was supposed to leave the keys in the car. “Brian, I don’t know!” I said. Thankfully, an employee saw us standing around looking uncertain.

“Returning?” he asked.

“YES!”

“Take the keys to that guy over there in the booth. You have to do something before you go.”

The guy in the booth came out to meet us and took the keys. “Need a receipt?” he asked.

“Not today,” said Brian. We hustled across a street and into the airport where we came upon a line of travelers so long that we couldn’t actually see the security checkpoint. And Brian hadn’t printed out his boarding pass ahead of time. (And he had made fun of me for my lack of travel experience just a few days earlier!)

“Where do I print out my boarding pass?” he asked me.

“Brian! I don’t know!” I said. We looked around but couldn’t see anywhere for him to do so. He told me to hold our place in line while he went to look around. I was just standing there, thinking how I’d have to find my way back to the tram, then take it to the departure gate. I might have to manage it all without Brian’s help. I was nervous, but I’d come this far and knew that I could follow the signs or ask for help along the way. But I wasn’t even sure I would make my flight on time and then I’d be left to figure out how to get home on my own. This was all just so much for an inexperienced traveler.

I was standing in line, trying to read the departure board and figure out where my gate was, when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone waving. It was Brian, yelling, “Come on! I found it.”

We had to go up another level and I waited while he printed his pass. When he was done, he noticed a sign and turned toward a TSA agent. I followed close behind and saw what Brian was looking at, a sign that said Alternate Security. Brian confirmed with the agent that we could go there and we soon found ourselves in another snaking line of people. At least this time, we could see the security checkpoint.

Brian checked his watch over and over and kept saying, “We’re not gonna make it.” I had been excited to experience a new place, but by this time, all I wanted was to get back to Minnesota. I started praying that somehow we’d make it. As we slowly moved closer to security, Brian asked another agent if he could shortcut us to the front of the line. We were surely going to miss our flight. The agent had the decency to look apologetic but said he couldn’t help us. He pointed to another agent and said, “Once you’re a little closer, she might let you through.”

The line moved painfully slowly, and Brian checked his phone for other flights. He was that sure we were going to miss ours. He was just saying that we could catch a six o’clock flight, have dinner in Atlanta, and then go back to Minneapolis when the woman agent who’d been pointed out to us came over and asked, “You two together?”

“YES,” we said!

“Come with me.” There were only about five people ahead of us at this point, but she got us through ahead of them and we were grateful. After making it through security, I asked Brian, “Think we’ll make it?”

“No,” he laughed. “We still have to take the tram!”

“Sh*t, I forgot about that,” I sighed. But still, we hustled. We were standing, waiting for the tram when Brian held up his cell phone and said, “I missed a call. It’s a Pittsburgh number.”

He called back and I heard him say, “This is Brian X. I just received a call from you. Yes! We’re waiting for the tram right now. Thanks!”

He was smiling when he said, “That was Delta. They’re holding the flight for us but we’ve got to get there fast!”

Google Images

Google Images

The tram arrived and we boarded. I willed the doors to close so we could move faster and we finally made it to the right place. Our gate was in sight and suddenly we heard our names over the loudspeaker. “Brian X and Terri X. You have one minute to board.” I didn’t even wait for Brian. I took off sprinting and he quickly followed suit. The ticket agents scanned our passes and waved us through. As we were running down the ramp to the airplane doorway, a male flight attendant with a good sense of humor cheered us on, saying, “Mr. Brian X! Come on down! Terri X! Come on down!

We were laughing and out of breath as we walked between the rows of seats. I tried not to notice the disapproving looks on the faces of the other passengers as I located my seat and sunk down into it with a sense of complete and utter relief. I sent a quick text to Mark to let him know I was on my way back and then turned off my phone. I took out my book and picked up where I’d left off earlier that day and only a while later did I realize how tightly wound I must have been all day long. The lack of sleep and all the nervousness had caught up with me. My eyes felt like they would pop out of the sockets and my head was pounding. I just wanted to get back home. But as I sat there feeling completely exhausted I heard a woman’s voice behind me singing Head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes…. And then the belly laugh of a toddler. Such a sweet sound. It made me smile. Not long afterwards, I heard the little one begging Mom, “Wanna hi. Wanna hi! Wanna HI!” Then right over my shoulder, I heard, “Ha-eeeee, Ha-eeee, HA-EEEEE!”

I turned around and saw the cutest button nose, a baby smile squished behind a pacifier, and a little set of eyes twinkling at me over the back of my seat. I realized that the little guy had been asking Mom if he could say hi to me. I couldn’t help but return his smile. He melted my heart.

“Hi!” I said to him. “What’s your name?”

“Whshwhshy” he said from behind the pacifier.

“Oh… how old are you?”

“Whswhsy,” he said.

I held up two fingers. “This many?”

Cutie Pie nodded at me and then Mom said he had to sit back down and that cute button nose disappeared again behind my seat. A while later I heard again, “Wanna hi. Wanna hi! Wanna HI!” But this time, Mom said no more. I was a little disappointed.

I couldn’t read any more. My eyes hurt. I couldn’t sleep either. So I rode out the rest of the flight just staring ahead. Finally, we landed. I texted Tammy to let her know I’d arrived and then called her to let her know at which door I was waiting. We chatted all the way home and when she dropped me off, I grabbed a quick bite to eat and went straight to bed. And slept. All night long.

I did it. Without making a fool of myself or getting completely lost. I’d do it all again if I was asked. But I’m not in a hurry.

Too Nice to Work

Scene of my summer lunch breaks

Scene of my summer lunch breaks

We are enjoying what I suspect are the last of our “summer” days. Over the past several months, my coworker pals and I have been taking our lunches out to the picnic table behind our office building. It sits beside a walking path that encircles a pretty pond. We’ve soaked up the sun while taking a break from the daily routine. We’ve built upon our friendship by chatting about our lives. Most days we’ve found reasons to laugh.

We became familiar with the faces of those who made a daily habit of walking or running the path over the noon hour. We’ve marveled at the wildlife in and around the pond, the ducks and geese, a family of turtles who sunned themselves on a log, butterflies and dragonflies and the wildflowers that grew along the path. Today we fought off the bees which seem to be going a little crazy this time of year. I was trying to ignore one that seemed fascinated with my head. Lori, who has a little bee phobia, tried unsuccessfully to hide her panic. “Terri, it’s in your eye!”

I assured Lori that the bee was not in my eye. I was pretty sure I couldn’t remain so calm with a bee in my eye. We all laughed!

We lamented the fact that this week might see the last of our chances to have our lunches under the sun at “our” picnic table. We looked up at the warm, blue sky not wanting to go back inside. Someone suggested that we shouldn’t have to work on days like this. Just as we sometimes are awarded a “snow” day and are advised not to try to travel through dangerous weather conditions to get to the office, we should also have “too nice to work” days.  Wouldn’t it be great if some days, we woke up for work, only to receive a message that we should stay home and enjoy a beautiful day?

Unfortunately, today was not that day. But we did have a really nice lunch break!

Baked Concoction on a Stick

It’s state fair time in these parts. The Great Minnesota Get Together begins later this week and the hype is abundant. There are television and radio ads. There was an entire section of the Sunday paper dedicated to this year’s fair attractions. We’re even celebrating at the office. Employees could sign up to receive two tickets for fair admission this weekend (I did) and there’s a state fair themed baking contest taking place tomorrow. Since I’m all about having a little fun where the workday allows, I signed up for that too.

The contest rules stated that entries could be purchased or home-baked. Bribing of the judges is highly encouraged. (I didn’t attempt any bribery, only because my workload simply didn’t allow it.) Extra points are awarded for foods “on a stick” since the Minnesota State Fair is all about foods on a stick.

My creative juices began to churn. Since my company is a new subsidiary of our parent company, this contest is all new to me and my coworkers. The contest organizer explained to us that past entries have been as simple as Twinkies (still in their wrappers) taped to a stick. No way was I going to take such an easy way out. I had a few vague ideas over the past few days. I purchased baking items here and there. But I wasn’t sure until I began baking tonight, what I was actually going to make. That’s when it hit me. What do you think of these?

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Bar/Brownie Sandwiches on a Stick!

The filling is made of chocolate and butterscotch chips. I added a dollop of caramel on top of the frosting, just to make sure the sticks would stick and the whole concoction would hold together when a judge picks it up.

I tried a bit of one. I have to admit, it was pretty good, though I wouldn’t recommend eating a whole one all by yourself. You could go into sugar shock eating one of these babies! But I seriously think I could make a profit if I sold these things at the fair… with a side of ice cream! I think I’m gonna win tomorrow’s contest! And if not, oh well! Win or lose, it was fun to play along.

The Difficult One

It’s summer. And it’s been beautiful lately. Not too hot, no humidity, upper seventies or low eighties… I should be happy. Summer is my happy time. But I haven’t been.

It’s not that I’m bottom-of-the-barrel miserable. I’ve just been so unmotivated about everything. I can’t seem to get excited about much. By the time I get out of bed, I’m already looking ahead to the end of the day. Nothing in the waking hours seems to hold much appeal lately.

I guess it’s a series of events that just seem to be weighing on me. I have no control over any of it.  And I think it’s all compounded by an ongoing situation which I really can’t change. There’s a person in my work life who doesn’t treat others very well. She’s phony and seriously lacking in integrity. This seems to be common knowledge. People talk and I’ve heard the stories for years. When she behaves politely, you’re always left to wonder what her angle is. If she’s unhappy with you, look out. She’ll spit words at you like fire. I’ve been on the receiving end of such behavior on several occasions, and like most others, I’m always so stunned that it leaves me speechless and at a loss as to how to defend myself. Afterwards, I’m never sure if I’m more upset with her for having the gall to be so arrogant, or with myself for failing to speak up once again.

It happened again on Friday. Here’s the thing. I think I have a reputation for being nice. And it’s not that I’m really all that nice, all the time. I have mean thoughts just like anyone else, but I keep them to myself. I don’t think I’d have the ability to voice hurtful opinions on others if I tried because deep down, I know those really mean thoughts are just that. Mean. Insecurity. Jealousy, maybe. But believe me, I’d love to let loose on this person if I could. I just don’t want to stoop to her level. I honestly think that when the company was reorganized, someone must have asked the question, “Who do we think will put up with her?” I think I was the answer. What happened on Friday? I did nothing wrong. I was asked to provide input for an important project and I simply agreed to do so. I was asked in front of her. And I’m pretty sure she just felt threatened that I was asked and she wasn’t. Her reaction was instant and her words boiled down to, “What makes you so important?”

I know I was asked because I’d done all the work leading up to the request. We were to work on it as a team, but everyone else was busy. I happened to have the time and what needed to be done was something that played to my strengths. I did the work at the request of the team, shared it with them and asked for feedback. She provided no feedback other than to say she was fine with what I’d put together and agreed I should move it forward, which I did. I took care to say it was our unified response, but I think my other teammate made it clear to others that the work had come from me because my boss acknowledged that she knew so. All the effort leading up to the request was mine. Why shouldn’t I be asked when it was time for follow-up? Why should she? But she didn’t see it that way.

Like always, in the face of her ire, I fumbled with a response that was merely an attempt to cool her down. She was completely unjustified, yet I was frantically trying to soothe her anger. Why? Why do I feel it’s my duty to make sure she doesn’t feel insecure when I have nothing to be ashamed of? Why do I feel that I need to muffle my strengths and talents just to protect her feelings? She’s an outwardly confident person with a reputation for arrogance. But she’s more than confident and arrogant. She’s bold and blatant. She thinks nothing of spewing condescension and spite when she feels threatened. She can be completely and utterly unprofessional. And each time she does it without being called out, it just seems to fuel her fire. I’ve seen her unleash on others and I’m always floored by the fact that there isn’t some corporate policy that requires she behave respectfully. She just continues to get away with it. Maybe it’s because she does do good work (when she actually does some work. She usually squirrels away the day and then kicks in to gear just when everyone else is wrapping up for the day. Then she makes sure everyone is aware of all of the “extra” hours she is putting in.) But she seems to feel that she always has to have a leg up on the rest of us. We’re supposed to be a team, but she wants to be the alpha.

It’s not as if I’m witnessing the worst of her behavior on a daily basis. She’s smart and knows to rein it in most of the time. But it’s happened enough, both the big displays and the little digs, that I now go to work, constantly on edge, always wondering if something will set her off. She talks incessantly from her cubicle whether or not anyone appears to be listening. And I always hear the “dig” in her words, whether it’s actually there or not. I’m so uptight that I’ve stopped looking forward to going to a job that I actually do enjoy. I work in an office full of people I truly like, except for one. And when I come home in the evenings, she and her words keep resurfacing in my mind. She’s making me nuts. And I know I’m making those around me nuts because I can’t seem either rise above it or face the problem head on.

I started tweaking my LinkedIn profile and this weekend, began to tell myself to start picturing myself doing something different, doing it somewhere else. I’ve mentioned at home and to a good friend that I might start opening myself up to the possibility of new work opportunities. My friend and my own daughter had the same reaction. “You can’t leave because of her!

I didn’t immediately realize that my friend and my daughter were right. Ironically, it was while working on my LinkedIn profile this weekend that I stumbled across a notification in my email that I’d missed a couple of weeks ago. I subscribe to blog posts on Steve Harper’s Ripple Central and I just so happened to have missed an article titled How Did You Start Your Day? This article reminded me that If I’m waking up every day feeling less than enthusiastic about what’s ahead, there’s only one person who can do something about it. Me. Then today, I saw something in my LinkedIn news feed. I must have previously subscribed to this feed at some point, and today, it lead me to The Happiness ProjectI found myself clicking through the site, reading various postings, soaking up one piece of positivity after another and again, being reminded that if I want to get back on track and be happy, I need to work at it. It’s on me. I can’t control the behavior of anyone else. But I can control the way I react and I need to figure out how to do this better.

I needed this. It suddenly dawned on me that the world is full of difficult people. The person who is my problem is clearly insecure and very likely, a really unhappy person. (Is it bad if I take consolation in that fact?) I can look for another job, but if I find one, that’s no guarantee that I’ll be free of the kind of person I’m trying to escape. need to be more confident. I need to learn to filter her out when I’m able and I need to learn to speak up for myself when the situation calls for it. I need to learn to respond immediately, with respect and without guilt or regret. I’m sick of carrying it all home with me day after day and constantly mulling it over in my mind without any kind of resolution. I’m done. And I’m already feeling so much better.

Out of Office

I took some time off from work this week. I’m going to spend a couple of days at home catching up and taking care of some things for my parents, then spend some time at the lake with my family. I know I need the break because even a few days of chores before going off to play sounds appealing to me. Today was my last day in the office until next Monday. Woot! Woot!

The company I work for was recently purchased by another company and we are now a subsidiary. My coworkers and I have all had to learn to adapt to change, which has come in waves over the last few months. Last week, our computers were moved from our old network to the new company’s network. There are many positive changes, but everything looks, feels and behaves differently than I’m used to. It seems to take me three times as long to do the same work. I know I’ll find my groove soon enough, but sometimes it’s hard to be patient. Thankfully, we are all given as much leeway as we need to figure out the new stuff.

This afternoon, as I was winding down for the day and getting ready to head home, I remembered that I wanted to turn on my out-of-office message so that any clients trying to contact me over the next few days would know that I was unavailable for the remainder of the week. But when I clicked the option to compose a message, I received an error stating that the action couldn’t be completed because the server was down. Of course, I didn’t believe the error message, so I checked with a coworker to see if she would have the same problem. She didn’t. Her out-of-office message assistant worked just fine.

Out of Office

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One of the really nice perks of working for this new company is that they have a phenomenal help desk. All I have to do is dial a four-digit extension and someone is there to help me with whatever problem I might have. I don’t even have to identify myself. The help desk knows who is calling! So I called to ask for help with my out-of-office problem and I was assisted by a very nice guy named Tom.

Tom asked permission to remote into my computer and I handed over control. He looked around at my settings, tried various things, shut down Outlook and opened it up again, all to no avail. He created a new email profile to see if the out-of-office assistant would function, but that didn’t work either. He explained what he was doing and proposed various theories as he searched for an answer. He really seemed to know what he was doing, even though he couldn’t find an immediate answer to my problem. He then asked what time I was done for the day. “About ten minutes ago,” I said.

“Oh, well then,” he replied. “I’m here late tonight, so I can probably get it figured out before I go home. Once I know what the problem is, I’ll get in touch with you so you can test it to make sure it’s fixed. What time will you be in tomorrow?”

“I won’t be. Actually,” I said, “I’ll be … out of the office … tomorrow…?”

I swear I heard him slap himself on the forehead. Of course,” he said! “Hence the reason for your call!”

“Uh-huh,” I laughed. I assured Tom that I could probably survive without the out-of-office auto reply this time and that I would connect with him again on Monday, when I’m back in the office.

At least all this change and frustration comes with some laughs.