Tuesday, December 16, 2008


If you've been watching tv the past few weeks, you may have come across a few clever ads for Lexus. The first one I saw was the commercial where the girl talks about her Xmas pony. Personally, I could never related to liking horses, but it was cute.

The next commercial I happened to see showed a kid staying up all night playing with his new Atari 2600. It made me think about all the times I went over to my friend's house to play with her big brother's Atari. We played a lot of Space Invaders, Adventure, Tank Battle, and Pacman. I didn't get to own a video game system of my own until college.

The third commercial shows a boy riding around the house on his Big Wheel. This one probably hit home more for me. While I don't actually remember receiving my big wheel, I certainly remember riding it around the neighborhood. I remember turning it upside down and to make it into a spinning wheel against which I could make noises with sticks and leaves. The commercials Mattel used to run showed kids who could do cool spins with the brake handle. I could never manage to repeat that cool stunt.

These Lexus commercials have been playing for awhile now. The local tv station ran a news segment about how car sales have plummeted except for Lexus. The dealership manager credits the recent commercials for increasing sales. I have to credit Lexus and their ad agency for a job well done that really played to people's happy memories.

The other night, the Big Wheel commercial played again. For some reason, it really hit me that these marketers are targeting my age group. It's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just weird how obvious this is. I can't help laugh. It's like when those Time-Life commercials try to sell you "Hits from the '80s" and you realize you've reached that age that you made fun of 20 years ago. I just can't believe it's that time already.

Do you suppose kids under 18 have any appreciation for these gems of childhood? I guess they didn't include Rubik's cube because it's not a big ticket toy. What are THE toys people will remember 30 years from now? I think the Wii would replace the Atari. Other than that, I don't have any good guesses.

My "toy" this Xmas? I have a beautiful KitchenAid Professional 600 Stand Mixer sitting on my counter (bought on sale).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Temporary insanity is back

After almost a year, I dread it's return. This morning, I noticed a few drops of blood in the toilet. The monthly monster is back.

Along with the physical aspects of it all so too are the side effects. For me, the biggest inconvenience is the mental toll. I seriously believe that I suffer some significant synaptic misfirings for a few days each month.

I was a bit down on Friday. When Tim got home, I just cried for awhile. The loss of my job, the stress of interviewing, and all the depressing news about the economy was too much. I haven't had a breakdown like that in quite some time. Seriously, I can't remember the last time I felt so miserable (though I can remember many times feeling like this through the years).

And then last night, I found myself in a dark funk. A panic set in as I sat down to research my interview presentation.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Boredom set in

Honestly, I like not having to get up early, commute, work for 8 hours (okay I probably do non-work stuff for at least an hour), commute again, and they scramble to find dinner before crashing on the couch for the rest of the evening. It's nice to be able to escape the house whenever I choose and do whatever I need to. On the other hand, the boredom is growing.

The truth is that I'm a lazy and very simple person. While some friends who have been unemployed have volunteered, quilt and knit, read books, go cycling for days on end, I don't have any hobbies that I could do day after day and be content. I have a pile of cards, gifts, scrapbooking supplies and laundry all around the house, but all I can do is sit here and feel sad and bored.

I have now been jobless for one month. While the time definitely passes by, I can't say it's been very fulfilling. I also find that I'm at a bit of a crossroad in what would be an ideal job. There's still part of me that is hungry for a challenge and to feel important. On the other hand, I don't want to work from 7am to 7pm every day to get ahead. I want a job where I have some interesting projects but where it's okay to put everything down at 5:30pm and go home. I don't feel like that's possible with what I do now. The problem is that I like what I do.

I just had another phone interview with a hiring manager. This is the same company that I've been talking to off and on for several weeks now. I must say that it was a much more productive conversation. We connected better this time and were straight forward with our concerns about each other. It was revealed to me that the group wasn't sure about whether to continue interviewing with me. Apparently I was very "difficult to read" during the interviews. They couldn't tell how interested I was in the job as opposed to just having decent hours and getting a paycheck . I am on the borderline as a candidate. Argh... .

This was very eye opening and great feedback. When I meet people, I think I tend to be a bit reserved. Coming into this particular interview, I was also overly scrutinizing since the initial contact had been so confusing. The concern on their part centered around how structured I seemed to want things to be. I guess I must have seemed robotic? The company is not in a situation to be a hierarchical place. I was asked to clarify my behavior in case they had misinterpreted. I explained that my mind had already shifted into a mode of trying to assess what actions I would take as the new person on the team. I emphasize my experience in different stages of a company and how that could help the group step up their current practices.

It felt better talking to the hiring manager because I felt like we had a much more personable talk. I don't want to work with someone who's very serious. It must be part of the getting older problem. I was naive and open-minded when I first got out of college. I think now I am very easily suspicious, doubtful and make too many assumptions about things. It's a very difficult habit to remind myself to break. I see from this that I need to improve on that otherwise it's going to take a lot longer to find a job!

My discussion seemed to alleviate the hiring manager's concerns enough to have me come in for a final presentation interview. There are two other candidates who have already completed the entire process. A third person will be presenting the same day as I will. We all have unique strengths though none of us have the perfect resume for the job (so I was told). I am hopeful, but I know not to set my expectations to high.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Charity gears

While I have time off, I made a commitment to volunteer at least once per week. I must admit that twice a week would be better, but I've been taking advantage of the time to get out and exercise before the weather gets worse and scoop up some good sale prices.

The organization I've been volunteering with is a group that helps children. They have various drives during the year and the holiday one involves helping agencies with gifts. In the past, I've simply purchased the requested gift for a specific child. Last year, my friend and I went to the warehouse where we helped sort gifts and fill gaps where kids wishes weren't fulfilled. It's amazing how many unique requests can be fulfilled, but it can also be frustrating when I child asks for something rare or inappropriate.

I really like the kids (or parents) who ask for simple things such as a pair of shoes, a backpack, or a CD player. I wonder what they do with kids who ask for big items like iPods, electric guitars, and video game units. You want the kids to be happy, but you can't allow them to have unrealistic expectations. Last year, we had a six-year-old who wanted a pogo stick. Maybe it's the conservative parent in me, but there's no way I'd give such a young kid a toy like that or at least without a helmet and pads. There are also the challenges when kids ask for unique items like Bettie Boop. We had this group of four girls who clearly talked to each other before they made their requests. One girl's wish was fulfilled by someone, but the other girls' wishes, for whatever reason, weren't as lucky. The warehouse stocks many great items, but it's not like having Target and Walmart next door. We seriously debated breaking up the set of Betty Boop items so that at least three of the girls got something. You know that girl who got her wish would brag in front of the others. Keeping within the means available and doing the best possible to give kids something they want is tough.

This year, I'm on the other side of the production. I'm helping out in the office. It's a great way to give without shelling out money, and it gets me out of the house and around people for a good chunk of the day. My main job has been processing donations. Donations are recorded, processed, and acknowledged. The amounts range from $5 to over $1,000. I even happened to run across a fairly generous check sent by my neighbor. It reinforces what good people I have assumed they are. It must feel really good to write those checks.

The one important thing I've learned that people should know is about the small donations. In general, any amount of cash is appreciated. What I didn't realize is that the person who gives a $5 check ends up wasting the organization's resources because it costs more than the gift to process and acknowledge the donation. I have a friend who said she gives a few dollars to organizations each year because she feels guilty when the solicitation comes in the mail. Now that I've seen the time the office people take to process the check and the office supplies involved, it's important to advise friends to pool gifts as one check or give cash anonymously. Otherwise, each check will be processed and acknowledged which is not the best use of time.

The coolest thing this year was hearing about a birthday party where the birthday boy decided to choose a charity to sponsor. He and his classmates are 7th graders in a private school. From an online book of charities, he found this organization and sought them out because they help kids. The logo of the invitations included the charity's logo and guests were asked to donate in lieu of a gift. The group of some 25+ kids collected over $2,000. I hope that I can instill in my children a sense of empathy and appreciation for people.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A last-minute, second interview

Coinciding with my layoff notice was an e-mail from company recruiter asking if I was interested in a job opening. Curiously, this was a position I had hoped for way back in January. The company did in fact post an opportunity of interest the same week I accepted my now former job.

I couldn't help think it kind of odd that they've been unable to fill the position for over six months, still it seemed like great timing for my new job search. They seemed quite interested in my resume and eager to schedule a time for me to interview. It's always nice to feel wanted.

Finding a new job is going to be challenging. My most recent job really was ideal because it matched so much of my search criteria. I wanted something in a new product area, something that challenged me to be more strategic, and an environment where the people I worked with were more similar in background to me. We were a small group of similar age, experiences, interests, and we could also laugh and have fun together. This on top of being smart people who were comfortable consulting and learning from each other. With all my work history, I've learned that it's nice to like the products you work on, but the key is to respect and enjoy being around the people with whom you'll spend forty hours of your week.

The interview with the company seemed to go well. I'm very excited about the company and its products. They have a very cutting-edge and impactful product. I've been interested in the company since I went to an association meeting where the president talked about the company. The three department people I talked with all seemed intelligent and friendly. The challenge was figuring out the work style of my potential manager and whether or not we'd be compatible. While she is probably incredibly competent, I worry that she could be pretty intense. I want to learn, but I don't want to feel like I have to be serious all the time.

That was two weeks ago. This week, at the last minute, I received a call asking if I could come in the next day and meet with the SVP for one hour. It felt a bit unnerving to have to sit with management for that long. Would I be grilled with technical questions and have to endlessly discuss my qualifications?

The hour felt like it was mostly spend listening to him talk. He repeated much of the information we discussed before though with more detail. I felt somewhat like an analyst listening to a investment presentation. It was like trying to be sold on the product. In my mind I kept wondering whether he was expecting me to interrupt with critical questions to demonstrate my strategic thinking and vision of my responsibilities. He stated that the next step in the interview process depended on whether I was still interested in the position. He tossed out the rhetorical question of whether I might be happier in a larger, more stable company rather than this start up (of 350 employees). They want to be sure I'm interested and prepared to take on the responsibility of managing a new department.

At the end, I was told that if I expressed interest that they'd consider me in the pool for a 2nd round where candidates would be asked to give a presentation to demonstrate speaking skills and analysis techniques. I'm excited about the job but still a bit unsure whether this is a group of people I will be happy working with.

Overall, I'm just still trying to understand the point of this interview. Granted, I had only spoken to the SVP via phone. This was probably his chance to confirm his stamp of approval. Are they unsure of whether to continue with me or are they unsure of my level of interest? And was I supposed to talk more? I mean it was strange how much of the hour he talked. Why not also touch base briefly with the hiring manager? I know I'm very intelligent and have a great resume, but I suck at reading people. I never know what to make of interviews.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Barista dreams

Before going to college, I always heard about student spending large amounts of time studying at cafes and developing a palette and addiction to coffee. My older cousin was a big fan of good coffee. So I went to a few cafes in my college career. I spent several evenings with a dorm friend trying to study at cafes and drinking mochas, but it never stuck. Granted, part of the problem was that I simply had poor study habits, but I also never felt the caffeine boost that other people swore they *needed* to survive.

Today, I basically like the taste of coffee, lattes and mocha especially, but I don't regularly crave it. When I'm at a nice restaurant and order a scrumptious dessert, I definitely feel a strong desire to complement it with a hot and fragrant coffee drink. I'll splurge once in awhile if I have a gift card for some local coffee shop.

When it was time to create a wedding registry, I debated whether to ask for something coffee related. Given the limited amount of kitchen counter space, I was not going to ask for anything that would eat up space and collect dust. I opted for this cool looking gadget called the Bialetti Mukka. It came in a sleek aluminum finish and a cute spotted cow pattern. Since it's a stove top espresso and milk pot, I thought it would be a good compromise to have something that would let me make the occasional latte but not take up a lot of space.

We received the mukka more than one month before the wedding. Tim said it was okay to open the package to know what we'd received and make sure that nothing was damaged. I agreed, however, that we could not open and use anything until after the wedding. Still, I browsed the instructions and read up on other people's reviews of the product. While it can work very well, the comments definitely made me concerned about the skill required to make the mukka work perfectly. I decided we should return it.

My reasoning was this. Since we don't drink coffee regularly, buying drinks from the store was a reasonable expense. Alternatively, I still have a very old Krups espresso machine sitting somewhere in my parents' garage. I earned it long ago when I worked at Crate & Barrel part-time as part of a sales contest. It's probably not as much the coffee drink as operating a fancy machine that appeals to me. Assuming that's true, I'm sure I'll be happy playing with the older "toy."

Just before the wedding, we received a heavy package from Costco. My dad's cousin sent us a beautiful, $300 espresso machine. While it was a very generous gift, we hadn't asked for it. If we drank coffee regularly, I would have had a blast playing with this espresso machine. But practical me, I returned it and applied the credit towards our banquet costs. The bad thing is that they've asked a few times how we like the machine. At the post-wedding brunch, she asked if we drink coffee and whether we'd tried the machine yet. She commented how they use it every morning and have saved a lot of money the past two years. When they sent us copies of the wedding photos they took, the card asked if we were getting the hang of using the espresso machine and to be patient because it takes practice. We don't want to hurt their feelings, but it sucks to have to lie about it.

When my parents came up for the wedding, I asked them to dig out the old espresso machine. It's nothing fancy, but it's still in very good condition and simple to use. I finally took it out this morning and cleaned it up. Calcium deposits had really built up inside the water tank, so I spent some 1.5 hours flushing the system with dilute vinegar and then several cycles of water. I wiped down all the parts and refreshed myself with all the dials and accessories that make the machine work. I picked up some decaf Peet's on my way back from hiking.

I wish I had taken a picture, but I must say that my first attempt at a soy mocha latte turned out great! I had my doubts about getting soy milk to froth because I thought the fat content mattered, but it really came out nice. I used an Irish coffee style glass mug. It showed off the beautiful chocolate color of the latte topped off with a two-inch high, ivory mountain of foam and tiny bits of chocolate settling on the bottom. I overloaded the foam just enough so I had to slurp up the foam that began to spill over the side. No store could have made it look better. The latte had a pleasant and mild taste. I can't wait to make a mocha latte for my hubby tonight to eat with my homemade triple-chocolate brownies. Hmmm, maybe Starbucks will take me if my other career plans fall through!