Friday, September 29, 2006

My Niche at Microsoft?

I am an educational media producer -- with the emphasis on education when I'm talking to producers, and on production when I'm talking to educators.

I haven't taught in a classroom for years, but throughout my 20-plus year career, I've collaborated in-depth with educators during the design and development of the toys, films and software I've produced. The niche I've carved for myself is very specialized and very deliberate. In the 80's, when I worked at places like Disney and Educational Insights, there were designers and there were developers. The designers, like me, established the creative vision and the educational curriculum behind the game, and the developers, along with the artists, carried out that vision. The benefit of having separate roles was that each would prompt the other to push their limits, to think outside the box and to expand their comfort zones. I'd design stuff that I knew would be a stretch technically, but the engineers would ultimately find a way to pull it off. (Well, except in '83 at Disney, when we were working with about 16 pixels and about as many colors per square inch... in those days, even begging and pleading couldn't help the artists to make Mickey's ears round!) At the same time, developers would sometimes beg us designers to find a way to put some cool technical capability to creative use. It was a simbiotic and oddly functional relationship.

A decade later, in the mid-90's, when I was a producer at Edmark, advances in technology had made it possible for developers to also be designers. They could think up an idea and -- boom -- it could be programmed. Developers no longer had to rely on designers; instead, they became designers themselves. And, in many cases, designers also became developers. Thing is, I had (and have) absolutely NO interest in coding. I have zippo interest in long complicated logic puzzles for the sake of logic. And oh -- I even hate math! So becoming an engineer/developer simply wasn't gonna happen for me. I continued down the design and product development road, eventually adding film to my software repertoire -- and absolutely loving it! And I expanded my horizons to include product management (budgets, timelines, staff mentoring, etc.) in addition to design. But I did NOT add engineering -- and that was by choice.

It has come back to bite me a few times, in terms of job opportunities, but I have never really regretted my decision. I'd be a terrible developer/engineer! And I'm a pretty darn good designer, producer, and product manager... so I'll stick with what I love.

Over the past 5 months at Microsoft, I have explained all this more than a few times. I'm pretty much the sole non-techie on an otherwise highly technical team. I'm a dismal failure at writing technical specs -- though I rock at writing non-technical design specs. And, to get to the original point of this post, the reason why I think I might have found my niche is because the big wigs there have, I think, seen that even a non-techie can prove to be valuable at Microsoft. I get education, I get kids, I get teachers. The developers get code, get features, and get platform -- but I think it's safe to say that they don't necessarily get their audience... nor is it their job to. And that's where I come in. Having my foot in both worlds for 20-plus years, I can serve as a necessary liasion between the two worlds -- and that is what I've been asked to do, at least on a trial basis.

Now THIS, I could love!! I'll work with educators in really cool ways (which will include blogging!), I'll work with Microsoft in really cool ways, and everyone will be happy. At least that's the hope. I'll let you know how things go!

In the meantime -- no, I didn't hear from the company who said, at Startupalooza that they "absolutely need" me. In fact, their site has been down all day, and according to a few interesting blogs, I shouldn't be surprised if they died a sudden death (the day after the job fair?!). Nor did I hear further from the Handheld Games company who called a few nights ago (though a former co-worker advised me to steer clear of them anyway... a micromanagement problem, apparently). But I did hear from my former boss, now at a local casual gaming company who said they have a senior producer opening and will definitely call me. And I do have a solid relationship with the company for whom I'm producing the training videos. They're still awaiting VC funding and can't hire anyone permanently until and unless that comes through. But I remain hopeful. It's a great staff and I've come to feel quite at home there!

And ya know... I might just consider staying at Microsoft if they'll have me and if I can just do what I do well there (design and educational media) and not feel that I'm a complete idiot because I don't do what the other 99% of them do (coding)!

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Sometimes, in order to work somewhere like this...

One has to endure something like this:

I went to a job fair called "Startupalooza" last night that took place in Pioneer Square, one of my favorite Seattle neighborhoods. After working at Microsoft in the morning and solidifying a freelance film production job (12 short training videos) in the afternoon, I pushed an already-harried day further and made my way downtown. Needless to say, by the time I got to the job fair, I had a massive headache and was pretty frazzled -- partly, I'm sure, due to the fact that I'd eaten a total of one apple all day.

I was fine with my crazy schedule and had even planned in advance for it. ("Breathe deep...") It was the call from Kat at 5:15 that did me in: "Don't forget about Open House at the school tonight at 7:00..." Dammit! It's not that I'd forgotten, it's that I'd planned the day from two sides of my brain -- I knew I had the job fair and I knew I had the open house; I just somehow didn't synthesize them to the exact same time on the exact same evening! We live a good 45 minutes from Seattle -- more during rush hour -- and when Kat called I was at Elisabeth's, having just spent a few "spare moments" (ha!) shopping for some groceries for a primary stocking of her new kitchen. She lives 30 minutes north of Seattle -- and the plan was for us to head to Pioneer Square together, then she'd wait for me while I schmoozed and begged for a job, and then we'd go out for dinner. (An evening at Pioneer Square is considered a definite event around here!) That plan never materialized, of course. Instead, I hastily apologized and got in the car, heading (no -- inching) for Pioneer Square. I finally arrived, slapped on a trendy green suede blazer and an admittedly forced smile and boldly entered the lobby, where it was wall-to-wall sweaty people, all vying to speak with the high and mighty hiring officers.

Is this what speed dating feels like?

I found the company I really wanted to talk to -- they make devices that read and digitize printed documents and are looking to go into the school market -- and waited patiently to talk to the head of HR who insisted that I'm "perfect for what they're looking for and definitely want me to come in." (I'll believe it when it actually happens.) And then, as hastily as I arrived, I left, tossing resumes in other companies' in-boxes on my way out.

It was 6:14 and the Open House was a good 45 minutes away. 'If the Seattle traffic cooperates,' I thought, 'I can make it...' which I did, slipping into "class" an acceptable 35 seconds late. Because we have twins in the school, Tom covers one schedule and I cover the other (otherwise, he could have gone to the open house while I went to the job fair). By 9:00, as I walked to the car, having still eaten only an apple all day, my headache was raging. Just to add some excitement to my day (pfffffft!), I didn't see a curb and ended up falling like a complete buffoon, scattering papers all over the street. I got in my car, surprised myself by bursing into tears and then uncontrollable sobs, which I managed to get under control by the time I met Tom for a bite to eat -- which could have been a very enjoyable experience if we hadn't been in the midst of a stupid, dismal fight.

Today promises to be better... but only because I'm locking myself in my office, so there aren't as many opportunities for disaster.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

In Need of a Vacation

In desperate need. In dire, desperate need. Really, really, really needing it.

It's been years since I've not been looking for a job. And the amount of time off between my past two jobs was a whopping 12 hours.

I want to be here... and at this particular moment in time, I want to be here alone.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Saying Farewell to a Seattle Summer

I'm not ready for winter!

Hell, if it weren't for fall colors, which I love, I wouldn't even be ready for fall. The price for our short, bright, glorious summers are our long, dark, dreary winters... and the hardest times of the year are the weeks going into that darkness (now) and the depths of it, after the holidays, from January to about March.

To you, bright and sunny Seattle, I bid a sad adieu. I have faith that you will return to me again...

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Making a Home Back at Home

A week ago, we didn't know if Elisabeth's home territory would be in Seattle or Biloxi. Not even three days ago, she arrived home. Tomorrow, she'll have her own household in a cute little blue house just outside of Seattle.

What a weekend! On Saturday, Elisabeth bought a beautiful bedroom set, a couch and some other major furniture pieces. Today, she bought everything from rugs and mirrors to a dustpan and broom. And tomorrow she and Kat, who I gave permission to play hookey (this is such important bonding!), will buy things like picture frames, candles and throw pillows ("the fun stuff").

Here's a pictorial history of the weekend:

This is the couch that Elisabeth bought (with Kat's approval).
This is the dad "gathering strength" to load the couch that Elisabeth bought.

After a mere few hours of sleep, we were at it again -- with a little help from Starbuck's!
Two days of shopping and a couple of thousands of dollars (hers!) later, we were all beat.
Kat and Elisabeth couldn't resist the cozy comforters at Ikea.
They'll be up all night, "playing house" like they did like they were little -- but not.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006


More fun from last night's football game (see previous post):

Elisabeth flew to Seattle yesterday to begin her career. The first thing she wanted to do, however, was go to the game! She said it felt like she'd never left -- but I knew things had changed because she and Aleks are now finally beginning to forge a friendship! Aleks didn't see her until the game and had to be right in front of her before she recognized him -- and I think that was due only partly to the face paint.

Each class (and within each class, each gender) has their own spirit team name, some form of "Falcons," only with "ph" instead of "f." Elisabeth's was "Phreaky Phalcons." Kat's is "Phlashy Phalcons." Aleks' is "Phugative Phalcons." Aren't they the cutest sisters?

And, just for fun, here's Elisabeth with each of her parents. You'd think that, with all the people there, we could have gotten just ONE picture of all of us, eh?!

It's so good to have her home! :-)

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Friday Night in Small(ish) Town America

For my expat friends, here's a bit of nostalgia from home: a Friday night high school football game! Our local high school, the one at which our twins are juniors, has more spirit than ANY high school I've ever known... including mine, and man, we were spirited! (Or maybe I've convinced myself that we were, since I was a varsity cheerleader way back in -- gulp -- 1974!)

Do these pictures bring back any nostalgia? The students spend hours before the game painting themselves green and blue and dressing up in ornate -- and ridiculous -- costumes. By game time, many are barely recognizable! The students all squeeze into one section of the stands and CHEER during the entire game -- with GUSTO! Each class has a motto and each student has an individual nickname on his or her shirt, usually affectionately referring to some embarrassing moment that the whole school knows about!
And what high school football game would be complete without the band?

Blogger's being moody again, so I'll continue this theme in my next post...

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Knitting the German Way

It's not uncommon that I wake up from dreams in tears. Usually they're about my oldest brother bullying me or belittling me (yes, sibling relationships in childhood CAN remain impactful in adulthood!), but this one was about Mom.

Mom knit all the time. She knit matching blue ski sweaters for my brothers and me when we were kids. She knit my favorite light and sexy open-weave sweater in college. And she knit incessantly for my children. She knit "the German way." According to her, the "American way" had too many frivolous and unnecessary steps. I remember that she tried to teach me how to knit, but as Dad had encountered when he tried to teach me to sail (the "German way"?) when I was in high school, I was too busy to learn and saw no reason to learning such useless stuff.

My dream was about a dream within a dream. In my dream, I had just woken up from a dream in which I realized that Mom was dead and I that would never learn to knit. I felt terrible, almost panicky, that I hadn't learned to knit from her -- that I always found more "important" things to learn and do. And now she was dead and I would never learn to knit "the German way." Mom had made it very clear (in my dream within a dream) that she was among the last people to know how to knit that way, since the generation of German knitters were dying off (I think that came from commemoration events that were happening at Auschwitz that week). In my dream, I woke up from my dream (not for real, only from the dream in the dream -- I know, confusing!) sobbing, and I ran out of my room -- where Mom greeted me, standing in the hallway in her blue down robe that always smelled like her (and which I am wearing now, in fact). I fell into her hug, sobbing that I had dreamed that she had died without teaching me to knit -- which she found rather silly, saying she could of course still teach me.

It was then that I woke up for real, sobbing. The sense of loss at that moment was the most profound that it had been since Mom's death.

(*with thanks to DixiePeach, for bringing back memories that are as happy, in an odd way, as they are sad...)

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

She Leads a Charmed Life, I Swear!

For the past week I have been tied up in knots and completely preoccupied. Elisabeth has been training in Bloomington, Indiana for the medical sales device rep position she landed before she graduated from Cal in May. We've known all along that after the three month training period she'd be given a permanent territory somewhere in the US, but she had very little choice where. She interviewed for an open position in Seattle because they're splitting this territory, but she knew that she'd be flat-out lucky to get that position as a new rep -- especially because Seattle is such a forerunner in the medical field.

But Elisabeth's life has always been a combination of very hard work and damned good luck, and she (and we) were confident enough about Seattle to grab the most adorable little house in Seattle when it became available for rent -- even before she knew for sure! It was a risk that we decided was worth taking.

Well... you guessed it: she got Seattle!!! My baby is coming HOME!! This is huge. It probably means that she'll settle here and...... that she'll marry and have babies here! It means that I can call her and we can meet for coffee on a moment's notice... that she has a refuge... that I have a refuge... that her siblings can get close to her again (or, in Aleks' case, finally?).

I feel like I just stopped aging.

(Yeah, so accuse me of living through my kids... today, I'll accept the critique!)

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I have a new friend! I have a new friend!

Every once in a great while, we meet someone who quickly touches our soul. When it's someone of the opposite sex, it tends to turn our world upside down, to rock us to the core, and sometimes to scare us to pieces. When it's someone of the same sex, however, it tends to comfort us, to vitalize us, and to stabilize us.

Today I met Lyn. Even though I'm a grown-up almost-50-year-old, my inclination was to come home, throw open the front door and announce to my family that "I have a new friend!" Our connection was swift, genuine and comforting and for a reason that I still can't identify, I completely opened up to Lyn, divulging my innermost thoughts, my goals, and my philosophies. When the poor woman had a chance to talk (I must be feeling really repressed and lonely at Microsoft!), she did the same with me.

I knew I'd like Lyn before I met her because she's an AFS volunteer (meaning she has a wide world perspective) and also because I love what she does professionally -- she consults with and mentors businesses using collaborative problem solving and team building techniques. That sounds very "vision and mission statement-y" though. The way she described it to me is that she urges business people to bring LOVE into their businesses and their business interactions, stressing that some of the same qualities that are important in nurturing and growing a personal relationship are important in nurturing and growing a business relationship. Makes total sense to me... although I have a feeling that it wouldn't have made much sense to most of the other Microsofties sitting in the MS Starbuck's cafe with us! I definitely don't think Microsoft was a company that grew with nurturing love! Its growth was spurned by quite the opposite sentiment, in fact.

In two hours I somehow told Lyn not only my life story, but my life's feelings! While I'm not shy and I'm basically an open and friendly person, opening up as quickly as I did with her today is quite unusual for me! At one point, she and I came to the same realization: that women, especially women our age, have stories to tell -- stories that are often repressed, neglected, or ignored... but stories from which we can both teach and learn as we finally focus a bit on ourselves and our own growth at this point in our lives. Lyn urged me to consider combining my video production and "storytelling" skills into something around women's changing lives. "Our hearts. Our stories." In order to go there (because I believe that women carry many secrets -- especially secret feelings), women need to feel completely safe.

Maybe it's a workshop. Maybe it's a retreat. Maybe it's a video. Maybe it's music. Maybe it's a book. Maybe it's all of those combined. All I know is that, in a place where I generally feel dry and stagnant and old, I met Lyn and within a few hours I felt energized and creative and ready to soar.

Now the gears are turning. Thanks Lyn!

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Easy to make, healthy, and tasty, too!

It's what's for dinner... It has no name that I know of, though we call it "the bean thing." We must have it a few times a month, simply because it's so simple to make, healthy and adaptable to different tastes.

Saute onions and garlic. Add some green (red, yellow) peppers. Cook for a few minutes. While that's cooking drain and rinse your favorite beans -- I use garbanzos (chickpeas), black beans, kidney beans, whole pinto beans, whatever. Add rinsed beans. Add corn if you like it/have it. Add some sort of tomatoes -- RoTel with cilantro and Chilis are best, but any Italian or Mexican stewed tomato would work. Add spices -- I use cumin, salt, pepper and sometimes Italian seasoning. Add from cilantro if you like it.

Cook till everyone's hungry/comes home/it's dinner time. Serve in a tortilla, with salsa, cheese, sour cream and any other fixins your little heart desires. Mmmmm!!

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

A "Getting to Know Me" Countdown

10 Favorites
Season: Spring
Color: Forest green
Time: 6:30 AM, after coffee has been brewed, when first sipped, on a day when I have no plans and everyone is still asleep.
Food: Pasta, dammit.
Drink: Flying Saucer (Amaretto, Kahlua and cream, blended with ice)
Ice Cream: Fresh peach or pumpkin at the local dairy
Place: Ruhpolding, Bavaria, Germany
Sport: The World Cup was fun!
Actor: Liam Neeson
Actress: I'm sure I have one, but I can't think of who it is.

9 Currents
Current Feeling: Sore!! (Gardened/hoed/shoveled all day)
Current Drink: Sparkling water
Current Time: 7:46 PM
Current Show on TV: Nothing (I don't watch TV, except to fall asleep)
Current Mobile used: A boring LG flip with camera 'n stuff
Current Windows Open: Gmail, Blogger, Weight Watchers Points Tracker, Password doc
Current Underwear: None, actually. Just took a shower, have flannel jammie pants on
Current Clothes: Cozies: flannel, oversized pants (red, white, pink stripes) with drawstring and a pink oversized t-shirt
Current Thought: "The problem with Sunday evenings is Monday mornings"

8 Firsts
First Nickname: Ladybug
First Kiss: age 13, 8th grade. Ken Johnson. My story about that kiss was published in the Seattle Times!
First Crush: Bobby Burger, our neighbor, one of 12 kids! He's apparently been in jail since.
First Best Friend: His sister (one of many), Diane Burger
First Vehicle I Drove: A green Opel. 1971, I think
First Job: McDonald's, of course.
First Date: Mark Triska. We ended up dating all during my freshman year. We're still great friends.
First Pet: Betsy, a full size cocker spaniel. I think my parents gave her away.

7 Lasts
Last Drink: Beer, a week ago, while all 6 of us played poker with Eva, an exchange student from Germany, whose liasion I am.
Last Kiss: This morning
Last Meal: Cucina Cucina, a few hours ago. Kat was sad last night because she broke up with her boyfriend and he was mean about it, so she and I did the mom/daughter Cucina Cucina thing.
Last Web Site Visited: A blog named "." (from where I got this idea)!
Last Film Watched: Brokeback Mountain. Saw it in theaters, but rented it to show the guys in the family (who wouldn't see it in theaters... but liked it).
Last Phone Call: From 19-year-old son and his girlfriend, wondering whether I was making dinner tonight, by any chance. (I am.)
Last TV show Watched: Can't remember. Gray's anatomy?

6 Have You Evers
Have You Ever Broken the Law: Probably. I occasionally speed.
Have You Ever Been Drunk: Yes
Have You Ever Kissed Someone You Didn't Know: No
Have You Ever Been in the Middle/Close to Gunfire: No, thank goodness.
Have You Ever Skinny Dipped: Yes, love it!
Have You Ever Broken Anyone's Heart: Yeah. :-(

5 Things
Things You Can Hear Right Now: The dishwasher running, the cat purring, Kat reading a paragraph of "The Catcher in the Rye" out load, Tom was snoring (but he'd never admit it), and Danelle giggling
Things On Your Bed: A red pillow in the shape of lips, a really cozy down comforter, some folded laundry, fresh sheets waiting to be put on, likely a kitty.
Things You Ate Today: A healthy pasta and veggie concoction that the chef at Cucina Cucina made JUST for Kat and me (!), a peach, and I picked at the home made mac and cheese that's in the oven now (but which I can't eat).
Things You Can't Live Without: a bubble bath every night, my family, coffee (hey, I live in Seattle), my cozy bed, writing/journaling, connections, music
Things You Do When You Are Bored: I am NEVER bored, but I'd probably read or write.

4 Places You Have Been Today
1.) Cucina Cucina, Italian restaurant
2.) Borders book store
3.) Pac Sun
4.) Our backyard

3 Things On Your Desk Right Now
1.) Boo, the sleeping kitty
2.) My camera
3.) Scrapbooking stuff

2 Choices
Black or White? Both. I love them together
Hot or Cold? I hate being too warm, but I love wearing fleeces, walking around in fluffy sock-slippers, and wrapping myself up cozy blankets.

1 Place You Want To Visit

With thanks to "."

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Mom's Been on My Mind

Nothing desperate or dramatically depressing; she's just been on my mind.

Sometimes I'm sure I hear her calling my name -- "Caaaaarol," her Bavarian accent providing a distinct roll of the "r." Even though she died over two years ago, I sometimes still absent-mindedly pick up the phone thinking, "I'll tell Mom about..." I can still dial the number; I can still tell Dad... but it's different. In so many little ways, though, Mom is still with me. Sometimes, when I'm putting on my make-up in the morning, mindlessly looking in the mirror, I see her looking back at me. As I was driving a few weeks ago, I found myself gnawing at my middle-finger knuckle, just as she used to do when she drove. I realized then that I must have been doing this for years, as I have a pretty substantial callous there!
I know I dream about Mom a lot, but for some reason I never, ever remember my dreams. Why is that?

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It's a Love Affair!

Shasta loves the cat, Boo... but even more than Boo, Shasta loves Kat! (It's mutual.) When Shasta was a puppy, she'd climb into Kat's lap and fall asleep while Kat rubbed her tummy. She still often crawls into (over?) Kat's lap, rolls onto her back and begs for a tummy rub. Ah, bliss -- for both of them!

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Powder Puff Insanity

When I was in high school, the traditional Powder Puff football game between junior and senior girls was a time for friendly competition, good-natured fun, and a whole lot of muddy, smiling faces.

Oh, how things have changed.

Kat, a junior, is still in physical pain (and emotional bewilderment), two days after she joined her group of junior girlfriends for a game of Powder Puff football against the senior girls. I should have known something was up when I received an e-mail from the school principal, saying that the event, which was to take place off-campus during non-school hours, was not sanctioned by the school and that it had often included less than civil behavior among the girls in the past. Curious, I asked Kat about it, encouraging her to skip the game and offering to take her out for dinner instead. She told me that she "had to go or she'd be harassed and called the "p" word (abbreviated in order to avoid my blog turning up on weird search results) all year long" and that she'd never hear the end of it if she didn't go. I asked her if all the junior girls had to go and she replied, "only anyone who has a life now and wants a life after it's over." What pressure! Turns out, she was damned if she went and damned if she didn't. If she went, she'd most certainly be subject to cat-fights among groups of girls that Kat said were "just like the movie Mean Girls." If she didn't go, she'd be taunted and labeled a "p" and a "coward" for what (to her, at 16) would feel like all eternity.

Yes, we had a long talk beforehand, today's version of "if your friend jumped off a bridge..." nWe talked about being your own person and peer pressure and self-esteem and the true meaning of friend. "I know, Mom... I know... All that's true. But I really need to go." It's so much easier being the "wise" mom, so far removed from all the details that make so much difference to a 16-year-old. While I strongly advised Kat not to go, I didn't forbid her. It's just not my parenting style. I knew she could take care of herself... and I knew that she could leave and drive home if things were getting out of hand.

Turns out, I was wrong. She could easily have been pummeled -- a few juniors were. What saved her, I think, was the fact that the seniors have no vendetta (often rooted in bitchy popularity and competitive issues) against her, that she has some senior friends, and that she's generally sweet and mild-mannered and nice to everyone. The "targeted" girls had called some senior (sometime, somewhere) a name, or stolen a boyfriend, or just looked at some senior (sometime, somewhere) the wrong way. Kat wasn't pummeled, but she was tackled and she was involved in some pretty rough "football."

As she told us today, as she, her dad and I spent the day together looking for landscaping materials and plants for the front yard, she had wanted to go home (or at least stop playing) halfway into the whole thing, but she "had" to play the entire game or she'd -- yup! -- be harassed "all year long."

In the end, there was a broken collarbone, some bruised faces, a sprained foot, and some bloody noses. Could we have stopped Kat from going to this insane event? Probably, by locking her in or threatening her with "consequences" -- which is not our style.

I am just absolutely amazed that, in this comfortable, tight-knit suburban community of highly educated and dedicated parents and driven and achievement-oriented students, an event such as this Powder Puff football game would even take place! Somewhere we must have failed our kids, somewhere they're failing each other, and when they act like complete bitches in cat fights straight out of Mean Girls, they are definitely failing themselves.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

And now I'm just whining

ADDENDUM to the previous post: I had brief conversation in the bathroom with a "blue-badge" (employee... as opposed to us orange-badged contractors), a fellow team member this morning:

Me: Hey! Howya'doin'?
S: OK. How was the boat adventure yesterday?
Me: Huh? Not sure what you mean...
S: The whale watching trip? The team-building stuff? Was it fun? I was under the weather...
Me: A whale watching trip?
S: Oh. (she turns red... then white...) Never mind. Never mind. (She heads quickly for the door...) Never mind.

Come to think of, it's absolutely DEAD around here right now.

And... a quick office check indicates that I'm the only one on the team here at 4 PM on Friday. Hmmmm -- I wonder what entertaining field trip they're all on now?!

I know this whole contractor/employee mandated separation thing has a history and business implications, but I do believe that the price is HUGE in terms of productivity and morale.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

WAH, not OOF (a CSG's $.02)

"WAH" stands for "working at home." If I were a true Microsoftie, I'd call it "OOF," which means "out of facilities" and was apparently begun by Bill himself years ago.

This morning my alarm went off at the reasonable and customary hour of 7 AM. Normally I jump out of bed and turn off my alarm at the same time; waking up and greeting the day (what my husband calls "change of state") have never been issues for me. But this morning I really, really, really didn't want to spend another eight hours in the silence of my office, with only the dull drone of the building's ventilation system keeping me awake... or rather, to putting me to sleep.

Last week my boss informed me that CSGs ("contingent staffing group," that is, contractors -- everything at Microsoft, it seems, is expressed by 3-letter acronyms!) aren't supposed to attend any meetings. ANY meetings. In other words, CSGs are definitely NOT part of the team, not included, not valued. Is that bizarre, or what? How on earth am I supposed to work in such a complete vacuum? I came from an environment where I oversaw entire projects and managed entire teams, and in my experience teamwork has been everything. I believe that ultimately, the success or failure of a product depends on the degree to which the people consider themselves part of a team and work as a team. Everything else aside, teamwork is what determines a project's success. And now I'm essentially being told that, as a CSG, I am explicitely NOT a part of the team. It throws me, to say the least.

As I sat on the edge of the bed this morning, those are the thoughts that went through my head. And I decided not to go into the office. I didn't decide not to work; I like to work. But I knew I'd get more done at home, with Boo soaking up the warmth of the desk lamp, asleep against my laptop, than I'd get done in the stark silence and vast emptiness of my office. So I fired off an e-mail to my boss (Microsoftese: I "pinged" him), informing him that I'd be WAH (not OOF!)today.

And that's what I did. By 3:30, still in my jammies, I'd sent my boss the document I'd promised him, and I was able to complete a scrapbook page before dinner (and two afterwards).

At 11 PM I got e-mail from the online reading company, telling me that they definitely want me to produce 12 short video training video vignettes, and that they're still awaiting VC funding so they don't know whether they can hire me permanently or not (and, truth be told, I'm not sure I can reconcile our philosophical differences... can I be that Skinnerian/behaviorist?!). If I produce those videos I'll have to find a way to either quit Microsoft -- which I can't do without another job lined up -- or to produce the videos on the side, in my "spare time." HA!!

I'm making almost twice what I made at the non-profit I previously worked for... and yet I'd happily slash my salary for a chance to do meaningful work, to know that my work matters, to have the opportunity to be creative, to work on a team that values collaboration, to encounter some (any!) friendliness or connection (not to mention collaboration) throughout the work day.

And now, gotta "go head-down." At Microsoft it means working so hard (usually referring to coding work) that one is not to be disturbed unless it's an emergency. For me right now, it means time to go lay my head down on my pillow!

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

When your Microsoft office (lower case "o") needs vacuuming

EVERYTHING is automated at Microsoft! Everything! If you want your office vacuumed, you don't assume it'll be done automatically, nor do you talk to a real live custodian. (Talk to someone? Like, real life communication?! Heaven forbid!!) Noooooo -- you type in some fancy-schmancy intranet code that takes you to the -- da-da-dum! -- "Facilities Service Desk" website. Once there, you navigate through a whole slew of drop-down menus. What kind of vacuuming would you like? Wall-to-wall? Spot? Wet? Is there any biological waste (barf? poop?) to be vacuumed? Do you need this done in the next (drop-down) 2 hours... day... 2 days...?

Geeeeeze! I just want my frickin' office vacuumed! You know, sucking machine... back and forth? How the hell does one make vacuuming a high-tech, interactive, intranet event? Leave it to Microsoft. @@

Shortly after e-mailing my "please vacuum my office" request, I received this:

Work Order Receipt Notice

To: S, Carol

Service Class: Vacuuming

Problem Code: Vacuum Space

Hello Carol S:

Our records indicate that your service request # 12863054 was submitted on 9/13/2006 for ' 116, Office, XXXX, Vacuum Space'.

Your Service Request has been received. It has been assigned the appropriate level and will be routed for timely completion. Should you need to cancel, change or provide us additional information regarding this Service Request, please email or call xxx000 (for Puget Sound, Las Colinas, Fargo, Silicon Valley and Charlotte) or 1-888-xxx-2362 (for all other locations).You can enter a new Facilities request at http://msservice/default.asp You can view the status of of all current and past Service Requests at http://csitcommon/find/default.htm

Thank you,

Microsoft Facilities Service Desk

And, while we're on the subject... I was headed to the cafeteria to have lunch today and ended up directly behind a group of three guys at the entry door. Knowing the rule about "piggy-backing" (don't do it, but if you must, show your card key to those letting you in), I flashed my card key to the guy. He actually stopped and said to me in a stern voice (reminded me of Mr. Ventor, my elementary school principal), "Can I actually see that?" "Sure!" I replied with a friendly smile (it's my defiant activism -- piss 'em off by being friendly and social; it's like Krytonite for them...), and I held my card key very still in front of his eyes. He looked at me, looked at my picture on the card key, and looked at me again, finally proclaiming "OK." I was free to get my lunch. I felt like a child who had just shoplifted or snuck into a movie.

I mean really -- what did Mr. Microsoft Security think I was gonna do, steal a falafel or something?!

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Remembering 9/11 on 9/12

I couldn't write about it yesterday, for some reason. On the community site I often visit, I couldn't change my online graphic ID to three American flags yesterday, like so many others did. I couldn't publicly recite exactly what I was doing five years ago (though I definitely remember) to various audiences throughout the day, like so many others did yesterday. I could barely acknowldge any of it yesterday.

It's begun to feel just a bit too much like a Hallmark Day, in my opinion, kind of like what's happened to Pearl Harbor Day. Maybe it's just the Berkeley kid in me, but I believe that, while the raw horror and devastation of that gut-wrenching day brought this country together -- I have never felt so patriotic as in the moments and days surrounding 9/11-- what we have done since that day in the name of "patriotism" (yes, this time in quotes) and how we have dishonored that raw, true and genuine patriotic protectiveness, has been just about unforgiveable. On that day, people all over the world felt our pain and offered their true, heart-felt condolences... but for some disconnected reason, we (as in, our governement... as in our president) felt the need to invade a small country that was, as far as we know, uninvolved in 9/11. Our compassionate friends around the world now looked at us -- and many of us looked at eachother -- baffled and disappointed in what in what we were doing.

And now, five years later and still very much a patriot, I continue to be baffled and disappointed in our actions since that terrible day in September, 2001.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

It's True: They Grow Up Too Quickly!

My little girl somehow grew up.

How did my feisty little urchin become this beautiful, confident, successful young adult? When did that happen?

She was always spirited (yes, I read Your Spirited Child) and far too smart for me to keep up with. At 5, she could debate me silly, leaving me reeling, wondering how she managed to systematically debate her way to exactly what she was after. And curious... goodness -- even now, at 22, "why?" constantly sprinkles her conversations -- with herself, with us, with the world. And that constant questioning is what got her into Cal... and graduated from Cal, with a double major, in just over three years!

While still in school, she landed a job with a medical device company and has been training in Bloomington, Indiana for four months, all expenses (rent, laptop, cell, travel, etc) paid. In the next few weeks she'll find out where her permanent territory will be. She requested Seattle and we're all crossing our fingers, hoping she'll come back home! Today her Dad and I are going to look at a house she's hoping to rent, assuming she'll get the territory. Thing is, this girl has ALWAYS gotten exactly what she wants! Sometimes she lucks into it, sometimes she finagles it, and sometimes she works very hard for it, but she always gets what she wants! So there's no reason to believe that she won't get the Seattle territory (along with a brand new, adorable car... gas paid -- me, jealous?!). We'll find out next week.

She and I have had some rough patches, usually the result of her being so dang much smarter and more stubborn (a lethal combination!) than me. When she was 4, she had the defiant hands-0n-hips thing down and she sometimes drove me nuts with her... well, with her spirit!

And now, almost 20 years later, we're best friends and confidants and I'm crossing my fingers so hard that she will get the Seattle territory so we can meet at the corner Starbuck's for coffee and adult conversation.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

The Best and the Worst of Working at Microsoft

The Best:

  • All the cafeterias.... The fresh, diverse and healthy options, the hours of operation (like 6 AM to 11 PM!), the accessibility (there's one in or near every building). Yes siree -- the cafeterias and the food at Microsoft are just about the best things about working there.
  • The beautiful campus. It really feels like an Ivy League college (though I sure don't remember being chaparoned to my classes in cute little white hybrid vehicles!).
  • Yeah, free beverages... all you want, too. Crazy thing is, this includes just about everything (juices, pops, sparkly stuff, all varieties of milk) EXCEPT bottled water. Turns out bottled water is too expensive! (No kidding; I wrote to the powers that be about this and that was their answer.)
  • Cheap software.
  • There are "new mothers" rooms in most buildings, with cozy chairs for breastfeeding and mothering. Thing is, I've never seen a pregnant woman or a baby on campus. Ever.
  • Men get 6 weeks' paternity leave; women get 6 weeks' maternity leave. (See above.)
  • No one cares when I get to work or when I leave or how I spend my days. As long as I do good work, my time and my schedules are non-issues.
  • No dress code -- though I still dress professionally.
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Problem is, he forgot to remind the people he left behind to do good things and to treat each other well.)
  • A Starbucks within steps of my office.

The Worst:

  • My cell doesn't work on campus. In fact, even on the freeway between the campuses cell calls are constantly dropped. Anyone who drives on 520 knows this. Either finish your conversation before you approach Microsoft or wait till after you pass to make the call.
  • Something goes wrong technically in just about every meeting I've been to. No kidding! The IT support at the tiny nonprofit I used to work for was better than Microsoft IT support! More than once, my simple PowerPoint presentation had to be scratched because of technical issues. I've had to wing it because of technical problems! @@
  • All that left-brained, social awkwardness! It absolutely seems like UNFRIENDLINESS, but it's probably more social awkwardness. It's hard to get used to every elevator ride in averted-gaze silence, no matter how friendly I try to be.
  • Contractors are treated like sub-standard, don't-really-count workers. Employees are treated like valued, brilliant professionals. "The lawsuit," of course, is completely responsible. The snooty people themselves are completely innocent.
  • The corporation as a whole is out of touch with the average consumer -- especially the average educator. No teacher will see Vista or have a GIG of memory for YEARS to come!
  • The whole goal of the company for 30 years has basically been to take over the world. To do that, you need a mentality of ruthlessness. It shows.

*Disclaimer to ward off Microsoft lawyers: this is all just the opinion of a lowly worker.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

"I'm not s'posed to like water???"

"What'chu talkin' 'bout?! This is one of my favorite hang outs!"

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"Hey, Ma... Dad's not reading after all! Look -- he's ASLEEEEP!!"

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bestest Friends (??)

The problem with bestest friends who are guys is that they tend to get weird and suddenly disappear, without so much as an explanation. I miss my friends. Where ARE you guys?!

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Heartbreak and Love at 16 (and 19 and 22 and 16)

I knew something was wrong at dinner, but it was only after dinner, when I ever-so-slightly reprimanded Aleks that I knew that something was really, REALLY upsetting him. Turns out he broke up with his girlfriend, Kelsey, today. I remember Love at Sixteen, and no matter who's the break-upper and who's the break-uppee, it HURTS. I remember, when John Naber broke up with me at 17, being more shattered than I've been since, even though the relationships I've had since have of course been far more mature.

There's just something about teenage heartbreak that stays with you forever.

Now if and when Peter and Danelle ever break up, we'll have a real catastophe on our hands... because I'm willing to bet they'll get married. They've been together for two years and no one can see either of them with anyone else... NO WAY!

And my girls?? Well...

Elisabeth met Ben at 16, and at 19 told my mom that she'd "marry him someday." She broke up with Ben her freshman year in college when they were at different schools in different states, but I really still have a gut feeling (as does she!) that she was right that someday... Hopefully she'll get the Seattle territory this year and then -- well, who knows!

Kat, my "baby" (well, one of them; she's Aleks' twin) fell hard for Ian, Elisabeth's college housemate:
...but she knows that --for now, at least -- he's really too old for her. He's in grad school this year and she has yet to complete high school. But I think they'll always have something for each other. Ian, being the good guy he is, knows Kat's too young. Who knows what will happen in a few years, but for now...

...well, *right* now she's at Adam's house -- again. Adam just graduated from high school last year and seems like a really nice guy. Now if only she'd bring him around more! (She just called to tell me that his mom made the two of them dinner and she'll be home a bit late... hey, I can make dinner, too!!)

Dang, weren't these four JUST babies and toddlers?! Seriously, it was just yesterday that they were all toddling around around the house, playing hide and seek. Time is such a strange thing!!

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Our Secret Forest and Our Torn-Up Yard

One of the reasons we bought the house we did eleven years ago was because waaaaay in the backyard, behind the garden shed, there's a forest... or as my kids used to call it, a "deep dark." I think I've been in the forest maybe five times, total -- usually looking for a child or a pet. Today, while doing some major gardening while T was building a wall, I went into the "deep dark" to dump a wheelbarrow load of brush, and I wondered why I don't go back there more often. You'd never know that there are neighbors witnin a stone's throw on three sides because our forest is truly a dense, natural Pacific Northwest deal.

We decided to re-do the front yard and hired a contractor to do most of the hardscape. Here are some "before" and "during" (now) pictures:

And "during" (now). Yes, that's the beginnings of a river rock wall:

And this weekend, T built this wall, while I weeded and hoed every inch of lawn (almost an acre of it) perimenter and flower beds. All I can say is everything HURTS!

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Scrapbook Obsession!

The next scrapbook is underway... which means that I'll start staying up till the wee hours, that I'll spend unreasonable amounts of time at the local craft store, and that my family will be fending for themselves for food and all other basic necessities.

This scrapbook is for Laura, our exchange student from Germany who left us in June. Hopefully I'll be done in time to give it to her for her 18th birthday in November. If not, it'll be her Christmas present.

Like any good Seattle-ite, Laura and her AFS friends were sufficiently addicted to Starbuck's. In fact, by springtime, they'd all take buses to downtown Seattle from various locations in the Puget Sound in order to sip coffee at a variety of Starbuck's locations -- including the first-ever Starbucks (the top-left photo). Yes, those are coffee beans.

The next picture was taken on our day at Mt. Rainier. I love how the picture tends to blend right into the background... and I had a blast with the leaf ribbon.

Needless to say, Boo is absolutely NO help at all!

And on the off-chance that Laura's checking in, I won't post any more pictures of her scrapbook. Wouldn't want to ruin her surprise!!

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Best Friends

Boo, our kitty, and Shasta, our Golden Retriever, are best friends. They play and roughhouse for hours at a time, sometimes just frolicking like this, sometimes actively playing hide and seek all over the house, and sometimes falling asleep together mid-frolick!

There are even times when I see a gold and gray streak pass by me and realize that Shasta has Boo in her mouth and is dragging him along the slippery hardwood floors. You can almost hear a dim "Wheeeeee!!" as they pass by!
We have three cats, yet Boo isn't interested in them, nor are they (an "ice princess" and an old, senile lady) interested in him. Shasta's much more fun for Boo and I haven't figured out yet whether Shasta thinks she's a cat ot Boo thinks he's a dog -- or whether either of them care one way or another, as long as the frolicking continues!

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