Mar 30, 2009

Sister, that ain't nothin.

One of the most annoying things my husband does is walk into the room when a bunch of us women folk are talking and start clucking like a hen. It’s annoying because it hits home a little bit. We tend to get all cranked up about certain subjects. There are a couple of sure-fire ways to get nearly every woman in the room talking. Discuss childbirth or weddings. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. We try to outdo each other with the gory details of our birthing experiences…..

24 hours of labor? Why that’s nothing. Try 48 hours of labor with no pain killers.
Ever had a forceps delivery? Now that’s pain.
I started hemorrhaging I nearly bled to death.
They started my cesarean section before the local anesthetic took effect.

If you close your eyes and use your imagination you can picture us all down by the river beating our clothes against the rocks chattering away. There’s some sort of universal, deep rooted need to share this information with the women in our lives.

What is particularly brutal is when we do it with a first time pregnant mother. It’s a good thing these fledgling mothers can’t change their minds about giving birth at that point because I’m sure many of them would. Veteran mothers are merciless. “You want to be part of the club you gots to pay your dues.”

Weddings have a similar effect except that bloody, painful birthing details are replaced with horror stories about late wedding party members or inconsiderate and rude family members. Everybody had a last minute crises that nearly caused the wedding to be canceled.

But I will gladly take all the chattering over the most common methods of male communication, the grunt and the nod.

Mar 27, 2009

Can I have a hug?

Mean people suck. That is my favorite bumper sticker. It’s a simple declarative statement that says so much about the driver. You can assume that they are nice. Also, they probably have some semblance of social awareness. Most importantly they care enough about how we treat each other to make a public declaration of their opinion.

The person in the cubicle next to me was a mean person. She was one of the layoff casualties. Working with her was the one part of my job I hated. Who wants to hear people slam things around? Her tone of voice sometimes was chilling. She was also one of those people who must have everything her way, and I mean everything. The simplest and most routine interactions had the potential to become a battle.

I know I didn’t enjoy working with her but I didn’t realize how much of an influence she had on the office as a whole. It’s like the air is lighter. People smile and laugh more now that she’s not here.

Niceness is like a drug. It makes you feel good and it’s addictive. There’s no reason to be snotty to the waitress, just explain what you want to her in a nice way. Did you know you get better service if you are nice? Try it. Are you really the most important person on the road? The roads are so much safer and enjoyable when we show each other a little common courtesy. Go ahead let somebody merge in front of you. Parents, stop yelling at your kids for every little thing they do, especially in public, it humiliates them.

If only we all thought that mean people suck. We could start a nice people revolution. “Mean people” behavior would not be tolerated. Beware all you mean, rude, pushy, demanding people who have to take the rest of us along on your miserable ride. We’re not going to take it anymore.

Mar 25, 2009

Does the flavor matter?

You could never accuse me of being someone unwilling to do their fair share. That goes for the global economic recovery too. During work I keep MSN up so I can track the stock market. I haven't had the courage to check my 401(k) balance for quite some time. I set a target for the DOW, sort of like my own personal panic threshold. So long as the DOW doesn't go below that number I hold onto the hope that things are stabilizing. My panic target has gone from a high of 10,000 early in the year to its current 7,000. (Had a bit of a scare not long ago when I thought I would have to drop it to 6,000).

Yesterday one of the pictures featured in the "Money" section of the MSN homepage caught my eye. It was a cupcake. The headline was "5 Signs of the Recession's End". I was intrigued. Hell, if all it takes is an increase in cupcake consumption I'll gladly do my part. The article included a video clip of an interview with a NYC Cupcake Bakery owner. The bottom line is that cupcakes seem to be recession proof and as a matter of fact, sales of cupcakes increases as times get harder. The owner said that his sales went through the roof after big market drops. I think the point was when cupcake sales drop we're in the clear. Maybe they should add that index to their home page.

Robins are a reliable sign that spring is here. When the leaves turn colors and the geese fly south you know that it's fall. I hate to be the one to break it to MSN Money but there will be no unmistakable harbinger of our rebound. We got into this mess gradually and were well into the muck before we realized what was happening (at least us normal people). It's going to be a gradual climb out and since the whole system relies so heavily on the human psyche there are going to be a lot more ups and downs along the way.

Mar 23, 2009

Keiretsu Girl

Awhile ago I promised a post about what it’s like to work for a Japanese company. So, here it is. I’ve worked with the Japanese for 13 years now, two different companies, both automotive and both part of large Japanese conglomerates (keiretsu) dating back hundreds of years

In Japanese culture the group is most important, individuals are secondary. Harmony is sought above everything else. Not surprising for a country the size of California with 1/3 the population of the US. You had better get along with each other because you’ve got no place to go to get away. Another factor contributing to the group mentality is they lack the diversity we have in the US. Although there are some ethnic groups, for the most part they all share a common heritage.

The American way of doing things is to be outspoken, demanding and independent. The Japanese way is to seek consensus and acceptance and above everything else don’t stand out. To understand this difference see the two diametrically opposed sayings from our two cultures below:

American: The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Japanese: The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.

The groundwork for a new proposal or idea is laid well in advance. This gives them time to meet and discuss with many different people so they clearly understand where everybody stands. There are no surprises sprung in meetings. Couple this consensus decision making with an aversion to risk and you end up with a looonnnnggg time between idea generation and project kick-off, a major source of frustration for Americans. Especially since kick-off is followed by demands to complete the project as quickly as possible.

Their risk aversion comes from the fact that mistakes are generally held against you for a long time. It’s not like in America where we love to see people overcome adversity. In Japan, once you’ve messed up you have a really hard time climbing your way back up in their eyes.

Yet, even with these differences, they seem to love anything American. It’s almost as if they are envious of our ability to be bold and brash. I think this is where their love of the Great American Pastime, baseball, comes from. They also have adopted many of our Holidays, (Christmas, Halloween), any excuse to have a party and do something “American”. Their willingness to accept the religious days of other cultures is not surprising. They are very accepting of different religious beliefs and follow two major religions themselves, Buddhism and Shintoism. Not one in one family and another in the next, but both in each household.

In most ways it’s no different than working in an American company, I have had both good Japanese bosses and bad and I have made a lot of friends. What is different is the daily exposure to a culture different than my own. Makes you see things about yourself that you normally wouldn’t notice. Overall, I have found it to be personally and professionally rewarding.

Mar 20, 2009

Barkeep, another round of 'ritas please.

Ahhhh, Friday is finally here. It’s been a long three months but all the layoffs are over. We completed the last ones this Wednesday. Everybody in this office is still suffering from shell-shock. There is no easy way to do it. If you do it as a group you lose the ability to communicate with them one on one about how valuable their contribution has been and how difficult the decision was to let them go. If you meet with them individually it takes more time so the entire staff is on edge all day waiting for the tap on the shoulder. And to boot, you feel like the grim reaper walking through the halls. “Uh oh, she’s on the move. Where’s she headed? Please God don’t let it be in my direction. Oh sh*t, here she comes….. don’t look at her…. put your head down.” We chose the individual meetings because we wanted to treat each person with as much respect as we could. It went smoothly with only a few exceptions.

Should be a good weekend.

1) Tonight I plan on drinking a few Kryptonite Margaritas, pictured above. Every two or three weeks a group of us get together at the fine establishment that serves these heavenly concoctions. All the ladies drink the margaritas and the guys drink beers usually. They know us pretty well up there so they keep the kryptonites flowing.

2) One of my two favorite uncles is visiting from Germany so I’ll get the chance to spend some time with him. My mother especially needs a visit from her big brother right now.

3) Going to see the new Nicholas Cage movie, Knowing. Gosh, I hope it doesn’t suck.

Mar 18, 2009

Put 'em up

Courage is something I have been thinking about lately. Where does it come from? My mother is facing her fourth major heart surgery. This time it is to replace two heart valves. She has had this operation twice before, in 1990and then again in 1991because the first surgeon botched the job. This time a new valve, the tricuspid, is involved. Probably scheduled for some time in April or May.

How do you psyche yourself up for it? You could argue that when you have no choice, you just do it, but it's more than that. It's amazing to watch her face this latest battle. Once she knew what needed to be done, her resolve was set. She faces into the hard, cold wind and pushes forward. Hand wringing and moaning will not be tolerated, at least not to us.

Perhaps in her heart she worries that the well has run dry and she has used up all her luck. How could she not? But I know that mental resolve is half the battle and she has that in spades. I have never told her so, but I draw on her example when I have a challenge to overcome. She has more courage than anybody I know.

Mar 16, 2009

Swingline Supremacy


At my last job there was a particular stapler that had been passed down from one departing employee to the next. It finally made it's way to me and I treasured it. Stapling was a joy with this particular model. This may seem silly, but if you've ever worked in an office and had occasion to regularly use a stapler, then I don't have to tell you how much easier your life is when you have one that works well.

This particular stapler was of the bona fide, 100% work every time variety with a unique, sleek design. When I left that company I actually had notions of pilfering it and probably would have if I had not discussed the merits of this stapler with many of my co-workers. They were lined up to see who I would bequeath it to. I ended up giving it to somebody who left after only another 5 months so I am not sure who he left it to. Or maybe he pilfered it himself. (Shakes fist at former co-worker.... damn you!)

Some staplers look nice but disappoint you every time because only one half of the staple connects in the back. Others work sometimes but then fail when you try to staple anything more than 3 sheets of paper together. And invariably when your stapler fails, you can't find your staple remover. You end up pulling it out with your fingernail.

Because of the recent layoffs at work we now have quite a few vacated cubilces. We had to beat back the vultures today. Although people feel bad for the laid off employees, they don't feel bad enough to stop themselves from seeing if there are any good staplers laying around. I understand where they are coming from, really I do, but they will just have to wait until we get the confidential material out of the cubicles. Besides, I get first dibs.

Mar 15, 2009

Yost post

We went to the U of M v. WMU hockey game last night. FSIL (future son-in-law) got the tickets from a co-worker. It was a unique experience. I have been to Michigan football games before but this was my first hockey game. It was an interesting experience.

One entire side of the arena is filled with students. It was like watching performance art. Every song the band played and every time something significant happened in the game they had some special chant or dance or gesture. It reminded me of the first time I went to see the "Rocky Horror Picture Show", not knowing what the hell everybody was doing.

I felt kind of bad for the Western boys. The way they were skating around trying to get the puck was sort of like watching two adults play keep-away from a young child. The final score was 6-1 and in good hockey tradition there were plenty of fights as the losing team got more and more frustrated. If it seemed like the Michigan fans were rubbing it in... it's because they were.... Michigan arrogance is one of the introductory courses in Ann Arbor. It's ingrained in them. They can't help it.

Another interesting sight last night was watching the lady in the front row whip out her breast to feed her infant. Now I understand A2 is liberal but come on. Really? Would it kill you to put a blanket over yourself? I can't help but feel that things like this are done for the shock factor. It makes the person feel like they are making a statement about how natural breast feeding is and we should all get over it. Well I partake in a lot of "natural" things but you won't see me doing them all in public.

We finished the evening with dinner at Mongolian BBQ on Main Street and would have gotten a cupcake from the Cupcake Station but they were closed. Had a great time.

Mar 13, 2009


I believe that the universe operates on the principle of balance. This idea is expressed in many different ways. “What goes around comes around.” “Opposites attract.” “Yin and yang.” It all comes down to a universal law that affects everything. You can't escape balance.

Do you remember in the movie The Matrix how the first world that was created for humans was a miserable flop because everything was too wonderful? They had to program in a little hardship to make it work. Balance. You can’t know how good you’ve got it until you’ve had it bad.

Too much of anything is a bad thing. I gave my son this speech when he went off to college. It's all about balance I told him. Partying is OK and normal for college kids so long as it is not overdone and you do the things you have to do. Good times are even better when they come right after some hard work and effort.

Now, the bell curve has perfect balance. Everything fits into the bell curve. Most everything is in the middle with some small amount of extreme at either end and it all ends up equaling 100% in the end. Understanding all this allows you to not take anything too seriously. It's all just part of the grand design and the fringes of the bell curve make life interesting. Just remember "It all works out in the end."

Mar 11, 2009

What are my choices again?

With the reception hall all booked we are now on step two of the wedding planning, find a wedding dress. We went shopping this past weekend. Went into the first shop, she tried on four or five dresses. The last one was gorgeous. Boom, done! Next!

I like to think I am decisive but have a nagging feeling that I might be impulsive instead.

decisive: characterized by or displaying no or little hesitation; resolute; determined

impulsive: actuated or swayed by emotional or involuntary impulses

I think it is in our nature to view ourselves in the most favorable light so I'm sticking with decisive. I would have bought that dress then and there. Not so fast. My daughter is neither decisive nor impulsive. She is methodical and careful, recessive gene I think.

We have now been to an additional four bridal shops with one more to go before we circle back and start all over again because we forgot exactly what the first dress looked like.

Did you know they don't allow photography in most of these places? Stupid rule. When I asked why I got some lame reason about the lighting not being good and the pictures turn out bad. Seeing as how I am going to be dropping a pretty penny here why don't you just let me take my chances.

I have also learned there are two types of bustles, the French bustle and the American bustle. The French tucks under and the American pulls the dress up and hooks it onto your rear. I prefer the French bustle. It just looks better than having a big bump of dress on your ass.

Hopefully we can wrap this all up this weekend and move on to choosing a photographer. God help us, there seem to be quite a few bad ones out there.

Mar 9, 2009

What are you looking at?

This picture was taken in Vegas. We were waiting at the corner for the rest of the group, right in front of Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. I saw this gentleman walk down the street and then come back. I saw him eye me and I saw him eye the open space next to me. Sure I could have moved down but I took it as a personal challenge. I'm sure he was surprised. He smoked his cigarette and we both did some people watching, then he was on his way. It's a free country he can sit where he chooses and I don't have to move.

I've gotten into trouble on a few of the girl trips. In Berlin, Alexanderplatz to be exact, there are gangs of young thugs just hanging out around the edges and under the stairs. Their "thing" is they all have big bad ass dogs with spike collars. Dobermans, german shepherds, rottweilers. They swear a lot and yell and just generally carry on. One young punk stood there and proceeded to take a leak up against the building. My cousin and I were standing there and I started to laugh. He comes over, after zipping up, and proceeds to get in my face swearing at me in German. He couldn't have been more than 16 or so. I think I said something like "Shouldn't you be getting home to mommy?" and stood my ground. He backed down.

Then there was the time in Munich, at the Hofbrauhaus, when I got into it with a skinhead. I didn't like the way he kept giving us dirty looks. So I started to stare him down. After about a half hour of the evil eye from me he came over. Telling me we didn't belong in Germany and we should all go home and leave Germany for the Germans. I understood his German and in broken German told him that my mother was from Germany and I had every right to be there. I also told him that if all the tourists left the Hofbrauhaus they would be closing up soon after. I don't think he understood exactly what I was saying but he knew what I meant.

I don't look for trouble but I certainly don't back down from it. I grew up in a neighborhood where showing weakness could get you in trouble. Keep your head down and keep moving but if you can't get out of it try to give back as good as you get.

Mar 6, 2009

Can I have a beer now please?

Just finished one of the toughest weeks of my life. We started downsizing this week. I had to fly out to LA and close an office of 23 people down. Not just any 23 people either… 23 of the nicest, most gracious people in the world. I can’t tell you how many of them said “Oh this must be so hard on you.” It made it so much harder that they were all so nice about it. Then I caught a red-eye flight back to do the same thing all over again here in Michigan, close a 7 person department of people that I work with every day. Then to cap it all off, a company wide meeting today with the survivors where I explained that 15% more people will follow in the next two weeks from each and every department in the company. Good luck everybody.

I am just heartsick. Good news is we have a very generous severance package so we are able to take very good care of the people that have been with us for a long time. Up to a year's severance pay for some of them.

On a less depressing note let me share a couple of things from my travel.

Sat in the airport bar drinking a beer, directly behind a guy who had to have known he was sporting the largest plumber’s crack in history. It should have been nicknamed the “Great Divide” or the “Plumber’s Abyss.” Yikes.

People who talk on their cell phones while on airplanes drive me crazy. These conversations fall into one of two categories:

1) Tarmac updates
“Yeah we’re still on the tarmac. About to pull away from the airport.”
“OK, well just thought I would let you know”
“I’ll call you when we land”

“Yeah, we just landed.”
“Should be at the terminal in a few minutes”
“I’ll call you from baggage claim”

Wouldn't be so bad if they added some kernel of uselful information in their converstaions. Is there anybody out there really so interested in the exact location of your plane? Shutup.

2) Conducting business
These are the people who conduct business while on the plane. They either call up somebody who is obviously below them in the pecking order and proceed to give them instructions on how to handle things in their absence, talking to their underling liek they are an imbecile. Or you get people that just have to close this big business deal. Or they want to discuss some brilliant strategy with a co-worker. All the while throwing in some industry specific jargon just to make sure we understand how in the know they are.

I don’t care how important you are. Yeah, yeah we get it, you’re a mover and a shaker. I am stuck in a tin can unable to avoid hearing you so do me the courtesy of shutting up, nobody cares.

Gosh… gotta get a beer and relax a little.

Mar 2, 2009

“How goes the wedding planning?”

Just peachy, thanks for asking. This weekend I learned that the MOB (Mother-of-the-Bride in wedding industry speak) has quite a reputation. From what I can tell so far I am supposed to be some sort of cross between a flighty thing that breaks down in tears at the drop of a hat and a demanding b**ch for whom nobody can perform properly. I’m not either of those things. I wonder if the process transforms me in some way. I guess only time will tell.

It’s very annoying how they all keep asking me questions instead of asking my daughter. It’s her wedding not mine. She values my opinion but this is her big day so she gets to make the final decisions. I’m getting the feeling it doesn’t normally go that way.

The FOB (Father-of-the-bride) has requested that two days per week we don’t do any wedding planning at all. In an effort to keep him from developing a nervous tic I guess we will comply. He is having a hard time adjusting to the notion of spending thousands of dollars for a one day event. For that price tag, he reasons, we should be traveling somewhere exotic. I haven't told him about "destination weddings". I wouldn't want him to have stroke.

Watching him get used to this whole wedding thing is sort of like watching somebody get into a cold pool. They dip one foot in, gasp in horror and pull it back out again, all the while knowing that they will have to go in all the way. My advice has been "jump on in" but he has chosen the “gradually expose yourself to the cold water” approach.

I got some surprising moral support on the budget side of things from my father. He is the only person on earth who pinches a penny tighter than my husband. When we told him how much we planned on spending he said. “Well that’s not bad, I heard that the average wedding today costs $25,000.” Dad, I love’ ya. FOB just stood there in disbelief. The one person he was counting on to commiserate with had abandoned him.

We found a place for the reception this weekend. It’s a beautiful place at a reasonable price. It won’t be too fancy but people won’t be eating off paper plates either. Next on the agenda is the wedding dress and photographer.