Sunday, July 30, 2006

What got INTO me?!

I cleaned like a woman possessed today. Didn't mean to; it just happened. It started innocently enough, as I paid a few bills. Then I decided to wash the car (black is an impossible color to keep clean and shiny!), and once that was done I decided I might as well use the already-out-and-wet bucket to clean where Cindy never does (why do I pay her when I end up doing her job?).

That, of course, was followed by the all-over -- ewwwww-gross -- cobweb removal and laundry folding and of course dusting. This was the hands-and-knees type of cleaning, the remove-everything-scrub-and-put-it-all-back type of cleaning.

My sanity should return by tomorrow morning... when I can take all this energy and use it to somehow get the message across to the powers that be at MS that it makes no sense to build something that techy developers think is cool and then show it to the intended audience and ask if we have it right. Why not ASK the intended audience (educators) what they want in the first place, then build what they need? I asked my boss that exact question and his answer was, "Because we're MS; because we can do it this way..."

I see. (Not!)

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Microsoft Mystery

Things that make you go "hmmmmmm..."

Whenever I want coffee around here, from early morning to late at night (OK, not REAL late... I haven't had to pull one of those -- yet), it flows from the little red spigot into my cup. The coffee maker is NEVER without coffee! NEVER. This interesting tidbit prompted me to actually follow the hoses and pipes to explore whether -- could it be? -- coffee is continuously piped in to all Microsoft java machines from some secret central campus coffee cavern. As far as I can tell, it just flows continuously from the other side of the wall in an effort to keep workers always caffeinated, always motivated, always thinking, always WORKING.


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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Mouse WON!

Poor Boo...

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Make that 5 options!

Option #5: I created some documents and posted them to the MS team SharePoint server today. They have names like "National & International Curriculum Standards," "Possible Scenarios in Five Curriculum Areas," and "Understanding our Market." I've been pretty vocal around those techy halls, imploring the "devs" (developers/engineers/programmers) to stop thinking in terms of cool features they're able make (hell, they CAN do anything), and instead think in terms of finding out what educators need and want, and delivering that. Sounds so simple. It's not.

Within 5 minutes of my posting, one of our vendors knocked on my office door, closed it behind him, and basically offered me a job. Long story short, he suggested that I work directly for him, as a vendor (instead of a contractor) for MS, allowing me to circumvent the whole MS "100 days rule" (which says that I need to take 1oo days off after working for a year). He shares my passion for education -- though he's on the tech end of it -- and I guess he likes my... well, my pit-bull stance about always (always!) putting the educator first.

So we'll talk more tomorrow. At this point, I truly don't know which road to follow. I guess it depends on three things: the nature of the work, job security (FTE vs contract) and money.

Or maybe four: timing!

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Ouch, my head!

I'm juggling four jobs -- or potential jobs -- right now and I gotta say, it's exhausting! I spend my days at The Big Software Company, no longer staring at tech-specs all day (thank goodness), but finally doing something I'm really liking -- making sure that we're actually making the product for who we say we're making it for... EDUCATORS and STUDENTS. Once again I'm the activist! I love it!

Job #2 -- or potential job #2 -- is a contract position in which I'd write the American education curriculum for an animated Australian movie and PC game for kids that addresses (in a very cool way) the obesity epidemic. As far as kids are concerned, it's all about superheroes, but I need to make it educationally cohesive and viable. It won't be an easy task! if that goes through, I'll quit MS and throw myself into developing that curriculum. The pay is great, but the main guy I'll deal with, while brilliant and creative, is a canon, and I'll earn every penny I make!

Potential job #3 is as Director of Product Development for an online company that guarantees to teach little (sometimes tiny) kids to read. It's very pedagogical, completely research-based, and absolutely effective... though a bit staid and boring. They definitely need me (and I think they want to hire me), but their VC funding hasn't come though so it's a waiting game for all involved.

Job #4 is going into business with my former boss, starting a company we'd call "Health Media Studios." We met last night to talk about what we might do and how we'd do it. It's exciting, and I think we make a great team (she has the biz development; I have the product development), but making it happen is something else. We did just book our trip to the "Games for Health" conference in Baltimore in September, though, so who knows?! We are definitely go-getters and do-ers, so this is completely feasible! Between the two of us, we have some great credentials -- Disney, Humongous, Web MD... Stanford, a gazillion years of experience and a million products... The more I think about it, the more I like it!

So what should I do? Votes???? (Yeah, right -- I have yet to have ONE comment on this blog! Hellllooooo out there!!!??)

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Oppressive heat

It's been around 97 degrees in Seattle lately -- with about the same percentage of humidity. I'm horrible in the heat, barely able to move! I know, I know -- 97 is nothing to complain about, and the rest of the country has it far worse. But I'm hot and cranky and lethargic and I absolutely can't get off my sweaty butt to do anything productive! (OK, I did go to a biz meeting this morning, following it up with a few hours' work... but then I wilted.)

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

My kidlets and hubby!

Just pictures today -- of hubby and kids. The picture of Tom was taken last month(he sure doesn't look 50!) at Mt Rainier, while the picture of the kids was taken a bit over a year ago at Peter's high school graduation.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A letter to Ernestine Bradley

July 18, 2006

Dear Ernestine (I hope you don’t mind me calling you by your first name. After reading your book, I simply can’t call you “Ms. Bradley”!),

I just finished The Way Home. Immediately upon reading your last words, I did what I have never done upon finishing a book: hardly missing a beat (at 2 AM, with an alarm set for 6:00), I flipped back to chapter one and continued to read, longing for you to bring me back to my mother once again.

Mom was born in Traunstein (near Chiemsee) in1927. Her stories about her childhood experiences were much like those you describe (down to the Griesbrei!). She, like you, lived in Munchen as a young adult, immigrating (with my father) from there to the US in her early 20’s and went on to college and graduate school (at Cal), eventually -- and coincidentally -- also teaching German, French, and Comparative Literature there. (Teaching at Cal in the 60’s… can you imagine?!)

In reading your description of your Heilige Abend, I could feel Mom’s constant longing for her traditional Bavarian Christmas Eve throughout her 35 years here. She tried so hard to duplicate it, but the Weisswurst never tasted just right, there wasn’t the glorious sound of horns and canons in the snow, muffled to make just the right holiday music, and the churches simply don’t smell right in America.

Even Mom’s descriptions of her parents – her feisty, controlling mother, her socialite, show-off father -- are similar to your description of your own parents… and I have a feeling that my own description of my mother would ring true for your daughters as well! (I would so love to hear more about them and their experiences as first generation Americans like me!)

There are so many more similarities – things that brought me to tears and made me laugh, hearing my own mother’s voice in your words… but I’m sure you have little interest in hearing about each and every similarity.

Mom died on Easter morning in April, 2004, four years to the day after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was feisty to the core – though the word “difficult” was used at least as often -- never willing to accept her impending death, until her last week when she, like your mother, let go and became completely sweet – a word I would never have used to describe Mom previously! Her last words were a mixture of German and English, descriptions of “floating” on a Alpen lake near her beloved home and of holding her mother’s hand (odd, since her mother was anything but nurturing; that roll came from Odelheid, Mom’s “Tante Betty”).

As I held Mom’s hand in that last week, I thought back to a trip she and I had taken to “her Chiemgau” when she was in remission in 2002. We stayed in Ruhpolding, now my favorite place in the world, for the full two weeks, doing something from her childhood each day -- from our day at the top of the Rauchberg where she described how she and her siblings would regularly “rutsch” all the way down the rock face on their bottoms, only to come home – every time – to a furious mother, yelling about ripped clothes, to our day in Reit im Winkl, where the glory was more in the ride there, stopping at each of many small lakes on the way to hear stories about a bike ride or a hike – or a make-out session in a little deserted Hut that used to be “between those two trees,” to our day at the Herrn Chiemsee and the Frauen Insel, just simply and completely (and finally) enjoying each other’s company… sisters more than mother and daughter.

At Mom’s memorial, I talked about the stages of our relationship and my role in her life – from daughter as I grew up, to sister in Bayern in 2001, to mother during her final year. Like your mother, Mom was “charming and entertaining,” but never nurturing. Like your mother, Mom “cared about all her children deeply, but her concerns were conventional” – and she never allowed anyone else, not even her sons and daughters-in-law, into that most inner circle.

My husband remembers distinctly the first time he met Mom in 1977, in the middle of the energy crisis. He had just driven us to my home in Atherton, California from UC Santa Barbara where we were in college, and instead of a warm greeting and an invitation into our home (as his mom would have done), she greeted Tom “efficiently” and told (didn’t ask) him to “go get gas,” adding, “Carol, you come in.” Tom still reminds me today that he almost drove straight back to Santa Barbara that evening! Mom was always so quick to judge, saying she didn’t need time to get to know people because she knew instinctively and immediately what any person was like, and she always either immediately absolutely adored them or was completely indifferent to them. About Tom, though, she was wrong. He was simply quiet (perhaps like your Bill?), with an inner strength and confidence that was foreign to Mom and she mistakenly mistook his peaceful and quiet demeanor for a lack of personality. She had to admit over the years (and did so willingly after a while) that she was “wrrrr-ong about der Schneiderbauer” (her name for Tom, whose grandfather, the real Herr Schneiderbauer, had immigrated from Austria early in the 20th century, changing his family name for simplicity’s sake on Ellis Island), and she came to adore him precisely for the qualities that had so confused her early on.

I almost brought the family back to Germany when, at the age of 23, I traveled to Germany alone between college and graduate school and, during a stay with Mom’s schoolgirl crush and his family (including a young man my age, of course!) in Nurnberg, I met and fell quickly in love with not the son, but with his best friend, Thomas. It turned my world upside down, partly because I had just been accepted to Stanford so I couldn’t easily decide to give that up and stay in Germany “just to pursue love,” and partly because I had a boyfriend at home (“Herr Schneiderbauer”) who, although not at all demonstrative about it, did (and does!) love me, as I came to realize over the following 18 months when he begged me to come back. (Thomas and I remain dear and loyal – and platonic -- friends to this day.) I am determined to write about that time in my life once I can take some time out from my career and I will take our exchange student’s parents up on their offer to live in their cottage house in Hofgeismar (near Kassel) for a few months and “just write.” I will write that story, as it is an adventure in itself.

…as is the story of my dad, a “Mischling,” whose mother was a gentile and whose father was a Jew in Chemnitz during the Nazi era. But this is his story to tell, as he’s now writing his own book (his second; his first is about his 16th year in a “work camp”) and, like you, he often contacts German officials about not only his family, but the about experiences of mixed marriages in Nazi Germany -- something you touched on, as you described the protest in Berlin at the Rosenstrasse.

I’m rambling now (it’s so hard not to!), but I just need you to know how deeply your book has impacted me. I had hoped to find an e-mail address for you (mine is XX), but the round-about address through your publisher is the best I could find. How I hope this gets to you and that I am able to share my gratitude with you.

With warmest wishes,


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Too many choices!?

Got a call from today a game developer -- a direct competitor to the one I'm currently in discussions with -- asking if I'm interested in working on a health game for teens, for which they have a TEN MILLION dollar NIH grant. I was completely up-front, telling them that, although no contracts have been signed, I am in negotiation with their competitor... but followed it with my philosophy that we should (and can!) all really be collaborators rather than competitors (the basis to why I'm not a fit at MS). Really -- when it comes to kids' health, we need to work together to find ways to deal with the health crises they face!

So add another piece to the puzzle I call my career! I'm at The Evil Empire now, desperate to leave. I have an interview on Thursday with a small online learning company. I'm in negotiations with Australian game team -- many hours, fabulous money, but the head creative guy is a canon (as the highly creative ones so often are) and will be a huge challenge. And now, throw this next little possibility in there. And somehow it all has to shake out in the next few weeks!

What I really want to do is write a long letter to Ernestine Bradley, thanking her for helping me understand my mom so much better -- two years after her death. Finished The Way Home last night... and cried.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Understanding my mother

I'm reading a book by Ernestine Bradley called "The Way Home: A German Childhood, An American Life" Through it, I am coming to know and understand my mother, who also had a German childhood and American life -- and who, coincidentally, grew up in the same era and within a few kilometers from my mother! (As did the new pope, who was actually a classmate of mom's...oh, I can only imagine THAT friendship -- but that's another story!) How I wish I could share this book with mom... but she died on Easter morning, 2004 after a four-year battle with ovarian cancer.

I have been quite unexpectedly moved to tears, just by reading words or phrases that I've heard all my life, but never absorbed until now. Even more impactful, though, are Bradley's descriptions of her mother -- her fastidiousness, her extreme attachment to and unending defense of her own family juxtaposed against her apparent apathy about most anyone else. She and I, it seems, had very similar mothers... and from her descriptions of her daughters -- first generation Americans, like me -- it sounds like we share similar experiences as well.

I feel a yearning to connect with Ms. Bradley, and once I finish the book, I just might attempt to do that! Maybe, somehow, it will be like re-connecting, just a bit, with Mom again.

Which reminds me -- I should really post about Mom's and my "sisters" trip to Traunstein/Ruhpolding (Bavaria) trip in April 2001, when she was in remission, and just the two of us went back to Germany... both of us reuniting (platonic, of course) with former loves, German men we each might have married, once upon a time...

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Ah, Seattle!

Most beautiful of cities... home sweet home!

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Just call me Puffy!

If the first picture one posts of one's self is about the worst possible, impressions can only improve... right?

Well, nice to meet you -- I'm Carol... but today you can call me Puffy. I just returned from Urgent Care because, even though I've been slowly and mysteriously puffing for a week (last Thursday it looked like I'd had Botox injections in my lips, and I actually liked the Angelina Jolie look!), this morning it just got plain scary. My face had puffed up like a marshmallow, I couldn't see, my head was pounding, and I felt nauseous. The doctor poked and prodded, talked to me for a few minutes ("are you sure you're not on any medications?"), then prescribed Predisone, seemingly more as an experiment than a cure, with the rationale that, if this clears things up, it WAS an allergy. If not, well, on to Plan B (whatever it might be).

Unfortunately, I don't get paid if I don't show up at MS tomorrow (if I were a blue-badge -- an FTE -- I would get paid, but contractors are definitely considered unworthy workers), so I'll go to work and incite an invitation to go home. My goal for clearing this whole thing up and feeling like a normal person again is Thursday, when I have an interview with the online reading company. Cross your fingers!

Perspective is an amazing thing. When I was young and petite and cute, I didn't feel all that cute and I was positive that I was fat. Then I got old and gained some weight and I wondered why I didn't appreciate being cute when I was young. Perspective, that's why! Today I'm older, heavier and most definitely uglier than I've ever been in my life and I can't wait to be back to just older and heavier, sans the uglier.

Ah, perspective.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Do blogs really need to be theme-specific?

If so, I guess I'll need to choose a focus. My choices are:

  1. Career woman in transit/crisis (Big world-gulping company, small, do-good nonprofit, business for myself, what do I want to do when I grow up?)
  2. Wife and mother in transit/crisis (In two years we'll be empty-nesters. Am I ready? Will we be OK as husband and wife alone in a big empty house after 20-some years of four lively kids sucking -- and giving -- energy?)
  3. My somewhat irrational drive to get back to Germany. ("Back?" It was my parents who lived there, not me. I have only visited. And granted, I almost married a German -- still my dear friend, and yeah, I do miss him sometimes -- but I never WAS a German. So why do I say "back" to Germany?!)
  4. Picture posts. I love blogs with pictures! And goodness knows, I'm obsessed with my camera!

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Jumping right in

Current goings-on in my life and in my head (or "allow me to introduce myself"):

Life stuff:

  • I'm working as a contractor at a (THE) major software company, (supposedly) in charge of game-based learning for a (supposedly) cool new platform that will hit the education market next year. I'm used to producing educational media with my heart and soul fully immersed and with the end-user always in mind. Not so here. At this major software company PMs own a "feature," which is one teeny-tiny piece of the product. Doesn't do much for the heart-and-soul aspect, and -- long story short -- I am miserable there and will leave once I find something else. A huge part of my misery comes from the fact that I find the people to be self-centered, anti-social, and in some cases, downright mean. Maybe it's because I've been in the non-profit world for the past five years, where motivations and relationships are different, but really -- people are just unfriendly! Unfortunately, that was bred from the time that HR had the insane idea of managers "grading on a curve," a portion of their direct reports "got As" and a porion of them "got Fs." Gee, how could they breed MORE of a culture of backstabbing than that?! That sort of approach is the antithesis to collaboration and teamwork!! Yup -- gotta get out of there. And fortunately, that might be coming because...
  • The nonprofit where I worked for the past five years as a product manager and executive producer of 8 videos addressing teen issues (self-esteem, body image, the media, healthy eating, physical activity, positive activism, and stress -- social, home, school and media-induced) called me within a month of axing all product development and laying me off. Seems they had been approached by a company in Australia who has an awesome product (movie and PC game, with stunning animation) addressing the childhood obesity epidemic for which they need an educational curriculum developed. Because I have been an "expert" of sorts in this area (at least the educational media approach to it), they called me asking if I'm interested. I think maybe they wanted to hire me back, but they knew that since I'd landed the other billy-job, they'd have to pay me handsomely. And, if the contract with the Aussie company comes through, they will do just that. So now I'm just whiling away my days in my office at work, waiting for the job I have real passion for to come through. I can't wait to get back to something for which I feel a sense of ownership and passion. For me, I need that in order to do a good job.
  • On top of all that, I have a job interview next Thursday for a leadership position with a small online company that teaches reading (with absolutely guaranteed results!) to 3 - 7 year olds. Very pedagogical stuff, not gorgeous or thrilling, but in need of some spunk. And spunk is what I do best!

Three possible directions for my career, when all I really want to do is...

(Head stuff):

  • Go to Germany all alone for a few months surrounding my 50th birthday, live in our former exchange student's "extra house" that her family offered me, and write my novel -- which is based on my life-altering adventures in Germany when I was 23 (eons ago). If I did that, it'd be the fifth time I've gone to Germany without hubby (granted, he didn't even know me when I went the first two times), and I have a feeling he'd divorce me! Not to mention that all the kids (except Kat, who hated it there) would want to come too. Hmmmm... a family excursion with a husband and four teens/young adults isn't exactly what I have in mind. No, my yearning is to take a sabbatical of sorts and go completely alone. To take a slice from this life and do something completely and totally different. I think this feeling has a name........... MID-LIFE CRISIS!

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Four months and counting...

Some bloggers write about their travels and adventures. Some write about their fears and hopes. Some write long, eloquent narratives, and some post just a few words. I'll probably do all those things as I blog my approach to the Big 5-0.

First posts are exhausting, though, and in spite of my youthful vigor and boundless energy, I've done myself in already!

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