Saturday, February 27

Reframe. Rethink. Reboot.

I was inspired by Shandon to dust off my blog and give her a little face lift. I ripped off her vintage idea but went for more of a comic book feel. What do you think?

It's been a helluva week but I got through it. I had to do some hard things but I'm glad I did.

Here's the deal, where I work they do a good job of encouraging us to take classes to make us more well rounded employees. My favorite type of class focuses on communication styles. They educate you on the various styles and what your style is and how to play nice with others with these styles in mind. It great because it's a double duty learning. I learn how to deal with folks at work and, naturally, it rolls over into my personal life.

I took a class about a month ago that required a "360" questionnaire. We work through an outside service that sends out questionnaires on class attendees and asks all sorts of questions about our work and personalities and God knows what else. Most of my non-friends recoil in horror when I describe this process and can't understand how I could possibly volunteer for such a dreadful process. However, I've done 360s twice now and they've both been great learning experiences. Also, I'm pretty self aware so I'm not terribly shocked by what comes back. For the most part the questionnaire indicates that I've grown in the past couple of years and that almost everyone I work with likes working with me and feels that I do a good job. On a scale of 1-4 my average ranking was about 3.5... pretty good for a mid-management level person. The only trouble was that my boss gave me about a 1.5. **Gulp** What?! I asked peers, clients, salespeople, creative staff and loads of others to give me feedback through the 360 and my boss gives me a 1.5 average?! WTF?!

During the class everyone was seen one-on-one to read and understand their 360 results. My counselor explained that a 1 ranking is where a person with no direct reports would be. A 4 is where a person who runs a division should be. All in all she said my 360 was excellent. She then pointed to the low ranking from my Manager and said "Ordinarily we'd tell you to ignore that one because they clearly don't know you. Unfortunately, it's your boss so you're going to have to talk to her about it." Bummer.

I don't typically run from confrontation. In fact, when I believe I'm right I typically charge towards confrontation. I didn't think this ranking was fair. My direct supervisor has been out on stress leave for four months and I've had to do both of our jobs by myself. My boss (over both of us) has not done much to filter what lands in my lap. I have a good team assistant who has been great but the work remains mine. Once, about 6 weeks ago a big VP was kind enough to pull me into his office to tell me that he knew I was doing a good job by myself and that he appreciated it and that "it hasn't gone unnoticed." That was very kind but was also the ONLY time anyone thought to acknowledge how hard I was working and that I was doing a good job. My boss prefers to pretend the whole ordeal isn't happening. This has really bothered me. Saying "thanks" or trying to encourage someone costs a company nothing but can make all the difference. I just can't understand how my boss can pretend it's not happening and never say so much as "good job" every once in a while. Wait, I take that back, I have heard her say "good girl"... once. It made me feel like her dog.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how to ask about my low rating and how to frame the conversation and how to remain calm and prepare myself for whatever my boss might say. Friends and peers have been puzzled by my boss' attitude throughout the past several months. One friend was so outraged she threatened to march into my bosses office for me if I didn't confront her asap. Finally, I decided the time was right. I had just completed several high level tasks and my boss was going to be taking one of our touchy-feely classes so I hoped what I said might be recalled in the class. I made an appointment last Monday evening and indicated in the invite what I wanted to speak about. It didn't seem fair to surprise attack her. I walked in cheerfully and with an open mind. Mostly I wanted to ask "WTF?" but I also wanted to tell her a few things I hoped would help our working relationship.

In the end it went well. She believes I need to "get out of my comfort zone". I immediately replied "I haven't been comfortable doing my Supervisor's job on top of mine." This stopped her for a second then she went on to give me an example, I countered with a more recent example. We talked for about a 1/2 hour. It was helpful but her complaints were small and I believe I can improve upon them. The most interesting part came when I showed her my 360 results in graph form. About 25 people were questioned about me and all ranked my very well. Seeing her ranking of me so out of proportion with everyone else seemed to surprised her. I laid the results in front of her and she sort of sucked in a little air and said "ooh!". I replied "Yeah, that's why I had to talk to you." In the end I think the evaluator I spoke with at the class was right, my boss just doesn't know me. Also, we happen to live on opposite ends of the communication spectrum of styles. She likes to get to her decisions by taking lots of cautious steps and analyzing the hell out of things. I prefer to gather necessary facts, talk things through and go for it. Needless to say we drive each other insane. They teach us to "flex" our communication styles. I know that I've stretched a lot but I can't say that I've seen the same from her. I've also come to realize that my boss doesn't know when I'm stepping "out of my comfort zone". For instance, I'm a very social person so most assume I'm perfectly comfortable presenting in front of others. Actually, I can't stand presenting in front of more than 4 people at a time. This past year I've had to speak in front of audiences from 2 - 125 people. It wasn't all comfortable but it helped me grow professionally and I'm getting better every day. I need to make sure she know that these presentations are no small task for me.

After the big "WTF?!" conversation we spoke about my supervisor coming back. I told her the past several months have been a good growing experience and that I'd done tons of things on my own and that has been good. I then went on to say that I'd also been disappointed because "Not once through this whole time has anyone reached out to me with any empathy or encouragement". I don't know about you but I'd be upset if a person under me at work said that to me. She, on the other hand, either pretended she didn't hear me or ignored me and went back to a point she'd made earlier in the conversation. It was bizarre.

I've recently figured out that it's not the workload that freaks me out, it's the way my boss tells me about the projects that riles me up. She is far too excitable for my taste. I tend to be pretty calm in the face of crisis, she seems to prefer whipping people up into a frenzy. It's a problem. I'm not sure what I can do about it but I may have to point it out to her soon before it sends me to an early grave. I have mentioned that I can tell when she's had that second coffee or when she's going for the chocolate and Diet Coke in the afternoon. ( I shudder to think what she'd be like on a Red Bull or worse.) My co-workers try not to laugh when I say these things but some things jut must be said. For Christ's sake, somebody's go to tell her to relax and it's looking more and more like it's going to have to be me.

All week we've been working on our annual "Strat Plan". It's a 5 year strategy on where we plan to take our business and how we plan to get there. It's based on lots of numbers and circumstances and conversations and I've never done it by myself. I looked at the hand written sheet my supervisor turned in to our boss last year for Strat Plan and decided it was not the way to go for me. Instead, I did my plan from an Excel sheet with lots of notes. Mine was better than my Supervisor's '09 plan. There, I said it. My work was more carefully thought through and I knew it. Late night, before heading out for my well deserved weekend, I sat with my boss to make sure she had all that she needed from me. After a few minutes of reviewing my sheets she said "You did a good job on your strat plan." Those nine little words were more encouragement than I'd ever received from her. I replied "Thank you. I appreciate that." and then told her to have a nice weekend.

I don't think I've changed anyone, and that's not my goal. I just hope that she's beginning to realize that positive reinforcement is better than ignoring all of a person's hard work. I don't know about her childhood but I don't get the impression praise came easily. I think she believes holding back kind words is how you motivate people. Unfortunately it doesn't work on me. I need to know when I'm doing something right. I need to know when I'm doing something wrong. Maybe it's just me but I'm not a mind reader, I need a hint now and then.

My supervisor is due back this Monday morning. I'll be happy to see her and to catch up and I hope she's doing better but I can't say that I need her like I did before. I now know that I can this job with or without her. Lots has changed in the past months. Some of the changes have been from circumstances at work, others have come from me being more bold and becoming more confident in all that I do at work.

I hope somebody besides my boss has noticed.

Did I mention that yesterday I went crazy and asked to be considered for a spot bonus? I say "crazy" because I don't even think I'm eligible for a spot bonus because I'm already bonus eligible. I wonder if that's why she finally complimented me. Maybe she finally figured out that it's cheaper than a bonus.

Sunday, February 14

The Succesfsful Housekeeper

About 10 years ago I went to an estate sale in Pasadena. It was in a small, quaint house on a tree lined street. I remember the house very well because it was an older house with tons of charm. I also remember the garage, or more likely, the carriage house. A pack rat of a man had spent a LOT of time in there with his woodworking tools. I would have loved it but it was dusty and full of rusty tools so I made my way back into the house. It was obvious that an older person had lived there and recently died. You know how older homes sometimes freeze in a favorite era? This house was sort of frozen in the 60's or 70's. The family had hired a company to run the sale and were just trying the clear the place out.

I came in from the garage and made my way into the living room. There I found an old, water damaged book that I HAD to have. It was called The Succefsful Housekeeper (that's no typo, the cover spells it that way). It was a fascinating book on it's own since it was clearly very old. What made it irresistible to me was the fact that a woman had spent so much time on it. The former owner had kept hand written recipes in it and had carefully glued newspaper clippings into every spare space in the end papers. The recipes are written on all kinds of scraps of paper; parts of old envelopes, receipts and magazine solicitations. A few of the scraps are dated from 1887 - 1907. The hand writing is elegant but heartbreaking because the newer recipes are written with a shaky hand, presumably when she got older. This woman seems to have kept this book her whole life. Every time I come across it I wonder about who she was. Many of the scraps of paper come from Pennsylvania. Did she come to California or was her book given to a relative or friend who came here? Was she happy? What was her life like? I suppose she was the mother or grandmother of the person who left that house behind.

I don't know who she was, not even her name,there is no name anywhere to be found. The book was damaged and I knew it would end up in the trash somewhere. I asked how much they wanted for it and they said "A dollar". It's probably the fastest purchase I've ever made.

I took some pictures, they aren't the best but I think you'll understand why I cherish this book.

Look at the detailed embossing on the cover!

Here is the inside cover flap where several recipes are tucked away.

Many of the recipes are written with a fountain pen. I love it!

Oh, this is a good one! It's difficult to read but it's a smallpox cure. It says "I am willing to risk my reputation as a man, if the worst cases of small-pox cannot be cured in three days, simply by the use of cream of tartar." Yikes!

Here is a shot of the clippings that have been glued into the back of the book.

This may be my favorite. It's a lemon pie recipe with a little drawing of a man and a dog. Look at his coat... It's just all so cool.

Some of the recipes are faded while others are written in a newer hand that is, frankly, very difficult to read. I wanted to include a recipe so I'll take one from one of the clippings. This one it titled "Shortcake Like Mother Made". It is written in the old style. Wasn't it Fannie Farmer who first started writing the ingredients first? Well, here is how recipes used to be written. I think you'll agree that the 20th century way of writing recipes is a huge improvement over the past.

I've reproduced the recipe exactly as it appears in the clipping. It is dated 1898. Apparently editors didn't watch punctuation or typos back then.

The recipe begins with a long drawn out story then finally gets to the recipe with: "Here is it, just as I have written it down:
One quart flour, two heaping teaspoons baking powder, small cup lard or butter, a little salt. Mix all together thoroughly and stir up with milk, to which has been added one egg and the yolk of a second, well beaten. Mix rather stiff, but do not roll, spread out on a long thin, oblong pan. making a cake not two inches thick when done. Cook in a quick oven, split with a silver fork and butter generously, and put together one layer on top of the other, the crusts down. Cover both pieces of shortcake with berries which have been slightly mashed and allowed to stand for a short time in sugar. They can be placed on the shortcake whole if desired and fresh sugar sifted over them. The white of the egg left should be stirred up with sugar and spread over the berries on top. Serve hot with rich cream. This is good with other berries, and specially good when made with ripe peaches."

I would like to try it but I have too many questions. What is a "quick oven"? How much milk would I use? Why a silver fork? Also, I don't think I'd enjoy the strawberries mashed and certainly not with raw egg whites in them. If any of you test this recipe I hope you'll let me know what you think. I wish you luck.

I'm mostly obsessed with additions to the book but The Successful Housekeeper is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of women in the 19th century. You can take a peek right here.

I keep this book with my cookbooks. It's very fragile but I like to pull it down every once in a while. It feels like spending a little time with the woman who kept it so well. I like to think she's happy that I rescued her little book and that I love it so much even though I'm too chicken to try most of her recipes. I hope that makes her smile.

Monday, February 1

Rainy Days

So I've been away for a while, that tends to happen when I'm not loving my job. I should rephrase that... I still like my job, I'm just very stressed out by it. That hasn't changed but I figured I should check in.

Here's what's happened while I've been gone:
  • It rained buckets for about a week around here. I LOVED every minute of it and would love some more but it's been tough on those dealing with mud slides. We got over 10" in the yard. Amazing!
  • I went to the Anaheim Craft Show and was inspired to pick up some cross stitch again even though the show was almost entirely about paper crafts.
  • I will never watch Jay Leno again. I don't care if he books Jesus Christ Himself, I'm not watching.
  • I'm way off track on getting through The List but will still see as many as I can.
  • I was supposed to go to Big Bear for a girl's crafting weekend but it's snowing too much so we're having to abort that mission and find another location. I'll keep you posted.
  • Here's a fun tip: I called my brother and he said "Hi!" immediately followed with "Ive got to take this call. I'll call you back." He never did so I sent him an email telling him he was "so Cats In The Cradle". It worked. He asked me to call right way.
  • I'm obsessed with Farmville on Facebook. It's sort of like Club Penguin but for adults. A Co-Worker, who is also my Farmville neighbor, passed me in the hall and said "Yo! I'm fertilizing the shit out of your farm!" It confused people and made me smile.
  • One of my favorite little spots on the net is back. That's made me happy.
  • I squealed when I saw Lady Gaga doing a duet with Elton John on the Grammys last night. I'm not proud, it just happened.
  • I'm shopping for a nice digital SLR camera. Not sure where to start but it must be done.
  • I have not been reading AT ALL. Another sure sign that I'm stressed out. Oh, and no sign of my Supervisor returning to work. Bummer.
  • Shandon killed Zelda Reubenstein.
  • I did my annual call with a friend's daughter to go through her AP reading list. I'm not sure how I got this job but it's fun and I've been doing to for a couple of years now. The parameters are a) It's got to be a foreign author, b) It's needs to be easy to follow and c) It's got to be short. My first instructions are always "Stay away from the Tolstoy and Wharton. They will just make you mad." In the end we decided on 1984 and A Christmas Carol. I know, but they are classics and she just wasn't going for the Jane Eyre. I tried.
  • I can't watch the news anymore. Seeing crying children is just too much for me. I donated some money to the Haitian Habitat for Humanity fund and stopped watching. It was really getting to me and making me cry. I'm back to watching American Idol and Barefoot Contessa. Is this responsible? No. But it's what I had to do. Don't judge me.
  • I made Ina Garten's Perfect Roast Chicken and we have declared it the best chicken in the world. I made changes (like ditching the fennel and adding potatoes) but I am what i am and the family seems to be happy with the recipe. Mom's just happy to have someone else cooking in her kitchen.
So, the good news is that writing down this list has made me feel better. Life is still pretty good. I really shouldn't complain and be a freaky stress case about it all. Still, I'd rather be here:

...or here:

They look like they have electricity and maybe even some cable and WiFi. Sounds perfect! Does anyone know how to get there and, more importantly, STAY there? Please let me know.

The Donner Party is on! The Donner Party is on PBS! Is it strange that this makes me so happy? I can't help it. I LOVE the American Experience telling of The Donner Party. Well, I'm set for the night. Sweet dreams everyone!!!