And in spite of it all, it was a good day

This morning arrived with a dark and heavy sky. The rain was already falling and when I let Lucy outside, it appeared as if it had been raining for some time. The deck, the trees, the streets – everything in sight was drenched. During the brief moments I was holding the door open for Lucy, a cold blast of air snuck inside. Just a little more than an hour later, before I left for work, I could see ice forming on the wooden decking. It promised to be an intense day.

At work, I had my head buried in a ginormous Excel workbook.  I was looking for a few needles in a haystack and was several hours into my task. I’d pinpointed the data I was looking for and had isolated it to its own worksheet when the unthinkable happened. excel error

Uuuuuggggghhhh! NO!

That’s what I get for being too confident. I was feeling pretty good, thinking I was on a big roll. I was getting all impressed with myself for tackling such a big problem in so much less time than I’d imagined. (I’m pretty new to this particular work. I like it and have a knack for it. But I need to learn to be patient!)

Had I saved my work? Not recently enough to let this roll off my back. Microsoft Excel was trying to recover my document and I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Fifteen minutes later when the recovery progress bar seemed stuck at about 10%, I went in search of an IT guy and made him look at my screen.

“PLEASE tell me you can do something,” I pleaded.

“Eh,” he said. “If your document is really big, your system probably just doesn’t have enough horsepower to recover it quickly. Just leave it be. Hopefully it can be saved. You can work on something else while you wait.”

So I sat at my desk and willed my document to recover, but it didn’t appear to be making any progress. I knew I’d saved my work at about the half-way point. I’d learned enough by running my process the first time that I could figure out how to shortcut my work to get to the same results. So I went back to it, setting up match formulas and filtering results.

Just as I’d pinpointed all of my “needles” again, the original document recovered.

Save your work! How many times have I heard that warning? Next time I might actually remember. I think this lesson was painful enough to make it sink in.

During a brief break, I glanced outside to see that it was still raining. It was coming down steady and sideways. Later in the day, the snow began.

I buried my head again in more Excel stuff. By quitting time, my brain felt like mush and the outside world had become a winter wonderland.

The drive home was slow. The freeway was a slushy, sloppy mess and the snow seemed to be shooting from the air at my windshield. But I made it home safely. When I’d pulled into the garage, I had the strangest experience. I could hear a chorus of birds singing from the tree in the front yard. If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine the color and warmth of spring. Except for the sound of cars slicing through the frozen muck out on the street.

We joke about the never-ending winter at work and among friends. Earlier this week, while discussing yet another forecast of snow, my pal, Lori wailed dramatically, “How will we go on?”

We all laughed, but really, I know we were all thinking it. “How will we go on?” This is crazy!

I’d be better off if I had an attitude like Lucy’s. She doesn’t even know or care what month it is. Snow makes her happy, no matter when it arrives. Maybe I could learn a thing or two from her.

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Then again, Lucy licks her butt. What does she know?

Happy Work

I like the work that I do. Oh, sure the job has its share of monotony – routine procedures and reports that have to be done week after week. And there are frustrations too, enough to keep things from getting dull. But there’s also enough variety and challenge to keep me happy for forty hours a week. I love to become so engrossed in a project that it keeps me digging, researching and documenting until I’ve failed to notice the clock approaching quitting time.

What I really love about my job, though, is once in a while, something really fun comes along. I received an email today from our CEO. Several years ago, I was involved in a company sponsored workshop involving storytelling as a sales method. One result of that workshop was that the CEO began to see business potential in my writing skills. Now, every once in a while, he invites me to contribute to a project with my writing.

There were actually three of us who received today’s email. The subject? A writing/thinking exercise. My interest was piqued. As I read through the instructions, I found myself excited to rise to the challenge. This is what I really like about our CEO. He’s an idea man; a big dreamer. Every successful company needs at least one of these. And he’s good at getting us “detail” people excited about the dreams and ideas so we can help make them reality. His email introduction continued to intrigue me.

Would each you, he said,

  • Read the little story below from an interview with Nora Ephron – a movie screenwriter and novelist – fyi – one of her most famous screenplays was “When Harry Met Sally”.  
  • Then read the attached brochure.
  • Then write me a headline – what is the primary point of the brochure?

 Ground rules:  

  1. Please do not discuss with each other or anyone else.
  2. Can I have your headline by 3:00 pm tomorrow?  

He then included the following excerpt from an interview with Nora Ephron.

What about teachers? Were there teachers who were pretty important to you?

Nora Ephron: Yes. I had a couple of great, great teachers. The teacher who changed my life was my journalism teacher, whose name was Charles Simms. I always tell this story. I love it. I had already decided that I was going to be a journalist. I didn’t know why exactly, except that I had seen a lot of Superman comics. Lois Lane and all of those major literary characters like that, but Mr. Simms got up the first day of class, and he went to the blackboard, and he wrote “Who, what, where, why, when, and how,” which are the six things that have to be in the lead of any newspaper story. Then he did what most journalism teachers do, which is that he dictated a set of facts to us, and then we were all meant to write the lead that was supposed to have “who, what, where, why, when, and how” in it.

He dictated a set of facts that went something like, “The principal of Beverly Hills High School announced today that the faculty of the high school will travel to Sacramento, Thursday, for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Speaking there will be Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, and two other people.” So we all sat down at our typewriters, and we all kind of inverted that and wrote, “Margaret Mead and X and Y will address the faculty in Sacramento, Thursday, at a colloquium on new teaching methods, the principal announced today.” Something like that. We were very proud of ourselves, and we gave it to Mr. Simms, and he just riffled through them and tore them into tiny bits and threw them in the trash, and he said, “The lead to this story is: There will be no school Thursday!” and it was this great epiphany moment for me. It was this, “Oh my God, it is about the point! It is about figuring out what the point is.” And I just fell in love with journalism at that moment.

I just fell in love with the idea that underneath, if you sifted through enough facts, you could get to the point, and you had to get to the point. You could not miss the point. That would be bad. So he really kind of gave that little shift of mind a major push. I just fell in love with solving the puzzle, figuring out what it was, what was the story, what was the truth of the story.

I could feel myself smiling as I read through the email. I wasn’t just smiling on the inside; I was actually, physically, fully smiling. As much as work is something I have to do, I love that it can also be something I really want to do. I love the fact that for someone like me, who in person tends to be a bit reserved, who at one time earned an unwelcome reputation for being “meek,” can be recognized for having not just adequate skills for the job, but an actual talent. I love that something I love to do can wind its way into something I have to do. And I love that I work for people who recognize talents in their employees and give them opportunities to feed them.

challenges in lifeI immediately dropped everything else (because I could afford to do so today,) and read the brochure for the company’s newest endeavor. Before I was finished, words and ideas for a headline were floating around in my head. I began to write them on my notepad, but my fingers couldn’t keep up, so I opened up a blank Word document and let the thoughts spill out onto the keyboard. Funny thing is, I am terrible at coming up with titles for my blog posts, but for this project, I had trouble deciding which of my ideas I most wanted to submit.

I think the big guy knew I would be excited to jump right in with his project. I sensed someone standing behind me in my cubicle and turned to find him standing in my doorway.

Did you get my email, he asked?

Sure did, I said. I’m working on it now.

I couldn’t help adding, This is fun!

We talked a bit about the fact that When Harry Met Sally was a favorite movie for both of us. He asked how I was doing with his little project. I told him I had a bunch of ideas and could send them before I left for the day if he wanted. He seemed excited by that, but I told him I reserved the right to send more ideas, if I had them, before tomorrow’s deadline. He had no problem with that.

I hope that one of the ideas I submit might be just that thing that the CEO is looking for. None of them might be. Two other people are brainstorming ideas of their own and submitting them.  I might have to settle for simply learning from them instead of having the “winning” idea. Either way, I’m just really glad to be asked.

Miracle

From my place in the cubicle farm, I could hear Lori answer her phone.

“Well, hi-eee,” she exclaimed! “How are you?”

Clearly she was excited to hear from somebody. I returned my attention to my work, but a few moments later, Lori poked her head into my cube as she was breezing by on her way to the front entrance.

“Lisa’s here,” she whispered loudly.

I stood up and wandered out to the open area in front of my cubicle watching Lori make her way to the locked entrance doors.

“Lisa,” I asked? “She’s here? Now?”

“Yes, right now!”

I looked around as Lori waited to meet Lisa at the door. It seemed everyone was busy at work. No one was milling around. I wanted to run through the office and spread the news that Lisa was here! But I waited. I didn’t want to disappear just as Lisa was arriving.

Lori was opening the door and there she was. Lisa was here! Lori was explaining how she wasn’t going to hug Lisa because she’d just come down with the cold virus that’s been making the rounds. I’ve long since put my share of viruses behind me. I wasn’t holding off on the hugging.

Soon word had spread that Lisa had arrived and my coworkers had formed a circle around our unexpected guest. Every face held a beaming smile. Everyone was clamoring for a hug. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that not a one of us was sure we’d ever get to see Lisa again.

She looked beautiful! I was struck by how bright and blue her eyes were. I don’t know why I’d never noticed it before in all the years we’ve worked together, but her eyes were striking. In a way, she reminded me of a cancer survivor. But it wasn’t cancer that robbed Lisa of her hair. Her long brunette locks were gone due to the brain surgery that was necessary after she suffered a brain aneurysm in late November. Her hair was just beginning to grow back in, no longer brunette but salt and pepper gray. Again, I was struck by how beautiful she looked.

She told us her story and everyone was murmuring about what a miracle it was that she stood before us today. In a more private moment, I asked when she might come back to work. She thought two weeks, if all goes well between now and then. I told her how much we’ve missed her and her eyes welled up with tears, not for the first time. She said what a gift it was to be standing there today and the word miracle came up again.

“I don’t know why me,” she sniffed, wondering out loud why her life had been spared.

“Why not you,” I asked?

“Because there are so many others whose lives have been cut so short. It’s not fair.”

I didn’t have any words for her at that moment, but just reminded her how glad I was that she would be able to come back to us. Some of us are close friends around the office, but we don’t make a habit of getting too emotional. But today, the professional boundaries were set aside for a while as happy tears were shed and hugs abounded.

After Lisa left and the excitement died down, it wasn’t long before it was time to pack up and go home. Only then did I begin to realize why her. I’m sure there are many reasons why she’s still on this earth. One of them might be to remind us that nothing is a given. As I thought about Lisa, I realized, I’m not entitled to anything. What’s important is not whether I have all that I want in life, but that I can appreciate all that I already have.

Do you believe in miracles? I do. I saw one today.

Positively

Ever notice how negative people can be?

My company has just undergone some big changes. We were recently acquired by a large, successful and reputable corporation. And as a result, we’ve moved to a new location not far from where our old offices were located. Our first day in the new place was the day after Christmas and since then, I’ve noticed a lot of discontent. I’m hearing a lot of complaints. The cubicles are too close together. There’s no longer an office manager which means  that when there are visitors or deliveries, everyone is expected to lend a hand with receiving them. The water filter/ice machines haven’t been installed. It’s too loud. It’s too cold. There aren’t a hundred restaurants within walking distance like there were when we were downtown. We’re not all sure where to find all of our office “stuff” just yet. So much of what was familiar for so many years has changed.

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People are frustrated. And I get it. I do. There have been some hitches as we try to get settled in the new office and figure out new policies, systems and websites. Change isn’t easy for everyone. Some who had nice, big offices in the old place have had to downsize to smaller offices. Some who had offices before have been downgraded to cubicles. Even for those of us who are accustomed to the cubicle environment, there are adjustments to make. There’s no longer a white-noise system to help minimize distractions. We can hear everything going on around us. Everything is new and different.

But I am a bit taken aback because what this change means for all of us is job security, which has been in short supply for the past few years. It means resources to grow our business and the chance to make something big of our products and services. So we have to make a few concessions. I just don’t think that all this negativity is helping anyone to acclimate, so I’d rather we all just make the best of it. A negative attitude just makes the workday drag on. It seems to me that finding the positives in all this change will make a better working environment and brighter days for everyone.

I much prefer positive people who can look for the silver lining in any situation, not just at work but in life in general. A positive attitude goes such a long way in making others happy and helping them to want to pay it forward. And this is probably what attracted me to the blog of Steve Harper, aka Mr. Ripple. Steve has made a career out of his ability to connect with others and make a positive impact.

And also, he’s promoting a post that I wrote about a piece of my work life, so that alone moves him right to the top of my favorites list! :-) I have to say, it’s quite an ego boost to have someone come along and say, “I like what you wrote. Do you mind if I use it?” NO, I don’t mind! What are you, crazy?

Steve has written a book called The Ripple Effect, about “how one simple action can dramatically affect the lives of friends, family, colleagues, customers… even people you’ve never met.” And if you like, you can hire him to come speak about his beliefs in “the power of positive connection.”

Seems like I should figure out a way to convince the powers that be to have Mr. Ripple come pay us a visit! And, you know… if you have similar needs, or just want to read something that will help you improve your relationships, go check out Steve’s website yourself!

Do I.T. Guys Like Chocolate?

I had a phone meeting with a coworker today. He’s in IT.

Generally speaking, the people of our IT department march to the beat of a slightly different drum. I’m no longer surprised at their odd habits. One of them sits cross-legged in his chair during business meetings. He also walks around in his socks at times. Another wears cargo shorts during the warmer months. He either wears the same pair of cargo shorts every day, or he’s got five pairs in the same color. One of them seems to collect his empty pop cans on his desk for days and weeks on end before finally cleaning house. The IT people speak a language that the rest of us don’t always understand.

And IT people enjoy privileges that many of the rest of us do not. They get to work from home a lot. Hence the reason I was having a phone meeting with my IT coworker today as opposed to an in-person meeting.

I set up this meeting yesterday. I have some reports that need to be built. I documented the specifications and created some mock-ups and I provided these to my IT coworker yesterday.  I asked him to look over my documents and be prepared to discuss with me whether what I was asking for was possible and if he could build the logic for these reports within a specific and rather short time frame.

My IT coworker called me this morning, as agreed, but I missed his call. We played a bit of phone tag before finally connecting. As I began to talk with him about my reports, he seemed confused and a bit distracted.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just so tired today. What are you asking me about?”

I was slightly taken aback. What was I asking him about? Didn’t he remember the only reason I had asked him to call me? Odd.

I explained that I was referring to one of the two report examples I had sent him yesterday. He said that I mentioned the examples in my email but had not actually attached them. I was pretty sure that I had, and I quickly looked through the Sent Items in my email account, finding the original email and attachments just as he said, “Oh here they are. You did send them. I’m sorry.”

Again he apologized for being so tired and “spacey.”

I’m not easily annoyed by my coworkers and I particularly like this particular coworker. He’s smart. He does his job well. And for an IT guy, he communicates pretty well with those of us non-IT kind of people. It’s unusual for him to seem so distracted, tired and “spacey.” But I found myself wondering about his exhaustion. Was he up late with a sick kid? Was he up late with his wife? (OOPS! None of my business. Shouldn’t be wondering such things.) Was he up late hanging out with friends?  A part of me wondered how long the work-from-home gig can last if those who enjoy such privileges can’t wake up enough to function during normal business hours.

My IT coworker did seem to come to life a bit as we talked though, and was able to give me his perspective and some promising feedback on what I was asking. He told me he was going to look into some stuff and discuss a few things with someone else and would follow up with me tomorrow or early next week. I figured that was best. I figured he shouldn’t be making any promises when he was having such a hard time focusing and staying awake anyway.

We hung up with me envisioning him lounging in his home office in his pajama pants, hanging up the phone and leaning his head back on his chair. I pictured his eyelids drooping sleepily, a pile of beer bottles in his recycling bin from the poker game with his buddies last night.

Later in the day, I heard another coworker mention feeling sorry for the IT guy I had met with. Something about him starting his work day really early. I suddenly remembered that along with the perks enjoyed by the IT people, such as shoelessness, there are a lot of drawbacks, such as working long past normal business hours, working weekends, and having to make deployments at midnight.

It turns out that my coworker hadn’t been up late with his kid or his wife or his poker buddies. He had started his work day at 3:00 a.m. in order to make sure a very important report was run so that many others could do their jobs when they arrived at 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. today.

I was too quick to judge. I hadn’t said anything to my IT coworker about the impression he’d made on me. I didn’t talk about it with anyone else. Still… I thought it. And I should have known better. Now I’m the one feeling sorry … and really grateful to be surrounded by people who are so dedicated to doing a good job, especially when expectations are always high and expressions of gratitude are often forgotten.

I’m thinking maybe I should make amends for assuming the worst about my IT coworker. A little token of appreciation, without explanation, of course because that would just be uncomfortable. But something. Any ideas?

Footwear Impaired

I notice people’s footwear.

When I’m walking from my parking ramp to the office, I look at feet. If people could hear the thoughts in my head, they’d hear judgments.

I LOVE those boots! Wonder where she got them!

I can’t believe someone would actually spend money on those shoes!

Dude, brown shoes do not go with a gray suit. Black shoes, dude! Black!

By the way, I realized today that I would never refer to someone as dude out loud. For some reason though, dude is a part of the vocabulary used in my internal dialogues.

Everyone has tall boots with low heels this year. Why don’t have tall boots with low heels? I need to shop more.

Those heels are ridiculous! Who would willingly spend eight plus hours in heels that high?

Considering my awareness of footwear, it’s no surprise that I have my fair share of pairs. I was going to go around the house and count them, but I just don’t feel like it. I can tell you, off the top of my head, that I’ve got four pair of fashion boots, three pair of athletic shoes, three pair of slippers, (some of which are actually worn outside of the house. I say if they have a rubber sole, they qualify as shoes.) There are several varieties of slip-on, slide-on type shoes, a few pair of heels and I won’t even try to count the flip-flop and sandal varieties.

You’d also think, considering my awareness of footwear, that I’d not make the mistake of breaking footwear fashion rules, such as wearing brown shoes with black pants or white socks with dark shoes….

…or wearing two different shoes to work. All day long. Without noticing. Without anyone noticing, or at least admitting to noticing, thank goodness. I’d have obsessed and died of embarrassment a thousand times over if I thought anyone had caught on to my blunder. I got all the way home and took them off, picked them up to put them in the front closet, and then… Hey, something’s not quite right here.

Yeah. I really did.

The one on the left is brown, though it’s such a dark brown it’s sometimes hard to tell it’s not black. Which is dangerous when someone is leaving the house in a hurry on a Monday morning and not paying real close attention to the subtle differences between brown boots and black boots. And yes, my pants are long and would have covered up the fact that the buckles are placed differently on the boots. But there’s a decorative seam on the front of the brown one that doesn’t exist on the black one. Good thing my feet sit under a desk for most of the day!

Muffinous

It wouldn’t have been possible without Joe. He was peeling his banana at lunch last week and made the comment that he would soon see whether or not it was too ripe to eat.  Lori nodded in understanding, but I was perplexed. The banana looked like it had reached the perfect peak of ripeness for eating and I said as much.

My four coworkers all disputed my observation. It seems they all prefer a touch of green on their bananas.

“Eew,” I said. “No green. When they’re nice and yellow, just before they start to brown? That’s the perfect banana.” I went on to tell them about the bananas I had bought nearly a week ago that were still sitting in the fruit basket at home. Still solidly green and showing no signs of ripening whatsoever.

Lori’s face lit up. “I should bring you my bananas. I bought some at Sam’s Club, and you know those come in a huge bunch. They’re getting ripe past the point that anyone at my house will eat them.”

“Bring them in,” I said. “I’ll eat them!”

Friday morning as I was bringing my lunch to the break room to put in the refrigerator, I knew Lori was already in the office. I knew because there was good-sized bunch of bananas on the table, and I had smelled them before I had seen them. I laughed out loud! Clearly Lori had not listened carefully when I described the condition of a banana that was perfect for eating. What she had brought me was banana bread bananas.

Later in the day, Belinda and I split the bunch and each took some home.

I noticed the bananas on my kitchen counter Saturday morning and decided to bake a nice treat for breakfast. The beauty of having college-age kids is that they sleep very late. There was no hurry. So I browsed through a couple of cookbooks until I found a recipe for Jumbo Banana-Nut Muffins. I knew I didn’t have any nuts on hand, but I didn’t care. I don’t like to taint my baked goods with nuts. The kids would prefer chocolate chips in their muffins instead.

The recipe said it would make six jumbo muffins. It just so happens that I have a brand-spanking-new muffin pan, and I was itching to give it a try. So there I was, happily mixing dry ingredients and mashing bananas and making just enough noise to wake my beautiful daughter who came home for the weekend. When she’s home, her time is more likely dedicated to Connor and friends. I knew that breakfast was my chance for some one-on-one time with her.

Kacey came trudging from her room in her signature pajamas … a pair of shorts and a softball t-shirt. (Or was it volleyball? I can’t remember.) Her hair was tousled and she didn’t look quite awake yet, even though it was near 11:00 a.m.

“What are you making,” she asked?

JUMBO Banana Nut muffins,” I said with obnoxious emphasis.

“Yum,” came her reply! “With chocolate chips?”

“If you can find some for me. There should be some in that cupboard,” I said pointing to the one I meant. “I’ll make half with chocolate chips and half without.”

The recipe said it would make six muffins, but the batter filled eight cups. No one was complaining about the extras. I popped them in the oven and set the timer. While we waited for them to bake, Kacey told me how she was trying to kick her pop addiction and she read excerpts from an article she’d found online that were enough to convince me it’s time to kick my own Diet Coke habit. Before long, I was peeking in on the muffins and seeing they were rising nicely. Kacey and I sat down to eat them while they were still warm…

Mountain Muffin Tops (anyone else hear Led Zeppelin playing in the background...?)

The smell of fresh-baked muffins was enough to draw Jake out of his slumber and he soon joined us.

The chocolate chip variety

These began to disappear quickly!

I like mine chocolate-chipless and with lots of butter!

The bananas I bought are still neon-green, a week after buying them. If it hadn’t been for Joe’s banana commentary, these muffins never would have come to be. It would have been just another boring, cold cereal kind of morning!

The Difficult, Challenging, Sorta Good, Very Long Day

I have a headache. Everything I touched today fell apart.

Okay, no. It’s not that everything really fell apart. It’s just that everything became such a bigger deal than it was supposed to be. And I’m not complaining. Because there’s nothing I love more than being challenged and I probably haven’t been challenged enough lately. But if we could space these challenges out some, I might not have a headache.

AND … just when I thought my head was about to explode, I called home from the office, just as a courtesy, because I am nice like that, unlike some other spouses I know, to let my spouse know that I was still at work when I would normally be halfway home and that I would be just a little bit late today.

(I should get some sort of prize for that run-on sentence. Do they award chocolate for poor sentence structure?)

So as I was saying, I called home. I said I would be late. The husband said, “Okay. But will you do me a favor please?”

I didn’t even wonder what the favor might be. I was tired. I said, “Sure. What?”

At this point, he would normally say something like, “Drive careful, will ya?” Except today he didn’t say that. Today he said, “Say hi to Lucy will you?”

“WHAT?” I screech-whispered into the phone, hunching forward and tucking the phone in closer to my face. “No. No. I am not talking on the phone to our dog!”

“Yes. Come on. Just do it.” He was cracking himself up now. There was no question in his mind that this was going to happen. I’m not sure where this was coming from because, you’re just going to have to trust me when I say that my husband does not normally have silly tendencies. That’s my department.

“Mark. No. Stop it,” I whispered fiercely. I was not in the mood for this. This is something my daughter would do, not my husband.

“Yes. Come on. Hold on while I put the phone by her ear,” he was insisting.

He needs to get out more, I thought as I resigned myself to the fact that, like it or not, I was going to become the doofus who talks to her dog on the phone. But I refused to pretend like it was cute and funny.

“Okay,” Mark’s voice sounded a little more distant now. “Say hi to her.”

I hunkered further down at my desk, casting sidelong glances to make sure no one was witnessing this colossal act of stupidity. I lowered my voice, and so as to discourage any further attempts on his part to solicit any further participation on my part, I muttered in the flattest tone I could muster, “hi. lucy.”

Mark was giggling. I swear he was giggling and then cracking up and his voice came back clearly on the phone as he laughed, “Her butt is wiggling and she’s bouncing off the walls! Do it again! Hold on…”

Please God, not again.

“Mark, no… if you ever want me to get home tonight….”

My pleas were interrupted. “Never mind. She ran off to the front door. She’s looking for you outside.” He was still giggling.

“Yeah. I’m gonna get my work done here so I can come home tonight anyway,” I said dryly, trying to make him see my eyes rolling via mental telepathy.

“Okay. See ya in a while!” He was still laughing. Clearly he was oblivious to the fact that I was rolling my eyes at him. Or he was choosing not to acknowledge it. He’s an expert at that.

I’m sure you think that this story ends with my headache magically disappearing due to the comedic relief provided by my husband and dog. You’d be wrong. But there is a happy ending in that I did eventually make it home where my dog attempted to wiggle her butt off the back-end of her body in her overwhelming joy at seeing me again. And she tried to eat my black boots as I was attempting to get them off my feet. But I didn’t even care because it sure was nice to have such a warm welcome after such a challenging day. But I am  definitely not having any more phone conversations with Lucy. She’s a terrible conversationalist and her phone manners are deplorable!

Kindness Unexpected

Not too many people surprise me anymore. But today I was surprised.

I came down with a cold early this week. At first it was all in my head, or more accurately, in my sinuses. I spent a couple of days feeling as if my head was going to explode. Then last night, my head began clearing and the cold moved downwards. So now I’ve got a lovely cough.

Michael is the newest member of our department. He’s always the first one to arrive each day. I’m always the second one in. It’s quiet before the rest of the crew arrives.

This morning, I came to work. I got settled at my desk. I coughed. I logged into my computer. I coughed some more. Michael appeared in the doorway of my cubicle, looking hesitant.

“Miss Terri,” he asked? (He calls me Miss Terri. I’m not sure why. I think he’s just uber-polite.)

“Hi Michael,” I said.

“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help noticing you’re coughing.”

“Yep, I’ve got a little cold going on. My turn I guess,” I said. Michael had endured a nasty cold for a couple of weeks recently, and so had Belinda.

Michael had a worried look on his face. “Well,” he said, “I just wanted to say that I’m sincerely sorry if you caught my cold germs. I really tried to keep my distance from everyone, and I went to the doctor and he said it was nothing more than the average cold. I know I sounded really bad, but there were a couple of days when I just couldn’t stay home and I had to come to work.”

“Michael,” I said, waving my hands as if brushing off his concerns. “It’s not your fault. It’s just that time of year. I get one of these every winter and my daughter just had it last week. Don’t worry!”

“Well, okay then,” he said. “But if there’s anything I can do to help you feel more comfortable, please let me know. If you want some juice or anything, I can run downstairs and get some for you. Just let me know.”

I was damn near speechless. Who does things like that? I mean, most people I know are nice enough, but not many would go so far a s to offer to go buy some orange juice for a sick coworker.

All I could do was mutter a very shocked “Thank you!”

And then I went and told all of my office buddies about Michael’s kindness. Most of them did that thing where they put a hand over their heart and cooed, “Oh my gosh! He is SO sweet!” (Michael is engaged. The consensus is that he is going to be a great husband!)

His kindness made me feel so good today that I decided to pay it forward. We have a couple of external auditors working in our office this week. One of them was looking for a Mountain Dew yesterday at lunch time and was disappointed to find there was only the diet variety in the pop machine on our floor. While I was down on our other floor today, I noticed the pop machine there had Mountain Dew. I bought one for the auditor and brought it back upstairs, leaving it on his desk with a note saying, “I grabbed a Mountain Dew for you while I was downstairs today. Enjoy.”

I hope maybe it made him feel as good as Michael’s kindness made me feel. He did come and thank me. He seemed a little surprised. Maybe he thought I was weird. But maybe he thought, “Hey, not many people surprise me anymore…”

We are all just pawns in the cesspool of corporate America!

The first thing I did when I arrived in the office yesterday was to schedule two vacation days for myself at the end of this week. Following standard departmental protocol, I entered my time off on the out-of-office calendar in Outlook and sent a notice to each of the six other people in my department.

Today, my boss sent me an e-mail asking about the time off, What was this for again?

I resisted the urge to respond that I felt entitled to some time off because I had just rolled over the maximum allowable of  80 hours from last year and had also just cashed out 37 1/4 hours that could not be rolled over. Clearly I did not take enough time off last year. I explained instead that I had intended to take a couple of days off from work to spend some time with my daughter while she was home on winter break. She is returning to school next weekend and I am running out of time. I asked if he needed me in the office. He said that he did not need me to cancel my vacation days but that staffing levels would be low both days and he’d appreciate if I just kept my cell phone on me, just in case.

I told him, Thanks. You are the BEST boss ever. :-)

He replied, Don’t tell anyone. I am actually pretty mean.

He’s not really. He would just like us to believe that about him, but he’s just too darn likable. (And yes, I know that word looks like lickable but that is in fact the appropriate spelling. Get your minds out of the gutter.)

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During lunch break with my favorite group of coworkers, I was humorously complaining about the need to explain to my boss why I needed time off. I mean really! What if I had a gynecologist appointment? Does he really want to know about that? I don’t think so! I mentioned a concept I had been hearing about on the radio one morning this week; the concept of the 21-hour work week. According to The Case for a 21-hour Work Week, a 21-hour work week will ” redistribute paid work, offering the hope of a more equal society (right now too many are overworked, or underemployed). At the same time, it would give us all time for the things we value but rarely have time to do well such as care for our family, travel, read or continue learning (as opposed to feeding consumerism).”

My coworkers were all in favor. No need to convince us!

And while we were on the subject of dedicating more time to living quality lives instead of working to live and living to work, I pondered why we couldn’t just all take the month of July off, like the Europeans do. I mean all of us Americans, not just my favorite coworkers and me. It could just be that I’m currently reading Under the Tuscan Sun and now feel the need to buy myself an abandoned villa in Italy and spend my summer months restoring it while discovering the history and enchantment of a foreign country … not that this is a likely possibility no matter how much or how little I work … but I suddenly feel strongly that we work too much in this country!

Lori strongly agreed with me. Every time I’ve met a European while on a vacation, she said, adding a very la-dee-da tone to her voice, they tell me they’re on holiday for two months! 

Yeah, the rest of us nodded. Holiday! 

Why can’t we have a summer holiday, someone asked?

Because, Lori said, indignant now. We’re all just pawns in the cesspool of corporate America!

That is a great quote, isn’t it? I wondered who said it? Turns out it was a Lori original. Sadly, we all had to concur with her. With little hope of cutting our work weeks in half, we returned to the salt mines to finish out the day.

But I’ll tell you this much. At the end of this year, I am not rolling over two weeks worth of unused vacation time.

Okay, actually, I might. But I’m not cashing out an additional week’s worth of time off. Life is too short. I need to enjoy more of it outside of the office.