Tuesday, March 31, 2009

School Debate

I had an interesting debate in school last week. We were talking about managers and trouble with managers and then someone mentioned going to talk to HR. Two of my classmates suggested that talking to HR is useless when you have a problem with your boss. I have been debating whether to post my response to the discussion here, but decided to just go for it. I feel like it is my responsibility to my profession. Or something.

HR varies from company to company, and professional to professional, and I realize you are only talking about your current employer. But I strongly disagree with the perception that "HR is only concerned about helping managers take actions in a way that avoids potential future lawsuits". In fact, in the last two investigations that I have conducted, managers complained to my supervisor, saying that I was taking the employee's "side" and not being "supportive" of the manager. That wasn't true, either.

I also disagree that HR's job is (or should be) to "look out for the employee's best interests". Neither is it to protect a single manager's best interests. We are hired by the company to protect its interests. Happily, that often means helping one person to solve one problem with one supervisor. But it also means (sorry for the cliche) that sometimes the good of the many outweighs the good of the few.

The Society of Human Resource Managers has a huge page defining the HR discipline of Employee Relations, but here is a snapshot:

"Basic employee relations concepts include equal employment opportunity, fairness and consistency in the treatment of employees, effective communications between management and employees, documentation of employment actions, recordkeeping as required by law and practice, complaint resolution processes, managerial and employee training, and “best employment practices.” Employee relations also encompasses the organization’s overall approach to maintaining a positive, productive and cohesive work environment within the organization’s particular business model and corporate culture."

You can see that there is some bureaucratic responsibility here, but I believe it is in the spirit of "maintaining a positive, productive and cohesive work environment". From an employee relations perspective, I consider my job to be seeing a problem from multiple points of view and trying to open communication between employees and their supervisors. The goal is to build or rebuild trusting relationships. It is only when I am convinced that won't work that I start defending the proverbial lawsuit.


Anonymous (2009). Introduction to the Human Resources Discipline of Employee Relations. Society of Human Resource Management. Retrieved on March 26, 2009 from: http://www.shrm.org/hrdisciplines/employeerelations/Pages/EmpRelIntro.aspx

Monday, March 30, 2009

Diversity: Leaders not Labels, by Stedman Graham

Book 13

I picked up Diversity: Leaders not Labels from the library as research material for my group project. Then I realized it was written by Stedman Graham, who is a big deal management consultant in Chicago and also known as Oprah’s Significant Other. I read the introduction just to see if he was any good, and he is. I kept reading and finished it in a day.

The book is part “yay diversity”, part “if your company is not diverse, your bottom line will suffer” and part, “here are the things that you should know about some minority groups in the U.S.”

That last part rocked. Besides describing the history of each group in the U.S., Graham offers short descriptions of heroic members of each group. One rather interesting (and heartbreaking) note is that when young Native Americans were interviewed, they hard a hard time naming any modern Native American Heroes. Most could only come up with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

Yes. Graham singled out Oprah in his list of heroes.

I learned that things, too. Apparently, the phrases “differently abled” and “physically challenged” are sometimes considered condescending. I always thought that. Here was a shocker:

I didn’t know that the word “peon” was considered a racial insult to the Hispanic community. My brain (and Encarta, the that dictionary Microsoft uses) equated it primarily with the word “drudge”, meaning someone who performs menial work. So, not a nice thing to say, but hardly racist. Then a secondary definition listed “laborer”, particularly Hispanic farm worker. A third definition was “low paid worker” and mentioned Asians. Now I know.

Graham also stressed the personal responsibility of each member of a minority group to manage their own destiny. As a woman in the workforce, I heartily agree that I should not be waiting around for an employer to build opportunities for me.

I think the big take away from this book is that true leaders do not take the shortcut of judging people by the labels society pegs on them. Leaders take the time to judge people on their merit. I’m not saying that I am personally any great leader. But I buy the message.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

End of the Weekend Blathering

I was going to take a picture of the snow and give you a "Mother Nature always saves one last snowstorm for April" speech. But that bored even me.

The school news today is that I turned in my first paper yesterday. It was returned, graded by my course facilitator, inside of 24 hours. I love that guy.

The score was a 91. My mother will want to know how I only managed a 91 on a paper for a course on managing employees when I work in HR. The answer: I got bored.

And now we know the theme for today.

In other news, I had to purge my "to be read" bookcase because it was overflowing. Now it is merely totally full. Which doesn't count the book on my nightstand that I haven't opened in days because I am always reading school stuff and the Star Wars book in my bag that I am really getting into and must only read at lunchtime.

OK. I really have to get in the shower now. And finish that other book for school.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

I Want this Semester to Be Over

Finishing up Week Three. Four more until the end of the semester. One paper. One group project. One final exam.

My To Be Read bookcase is officially overflowing and I am reading library books for school. Doesn't stop me from going to Half Price Books because my mother is looking for a couple of things. On top of all the books, I bought a computer game.

I am going to spend the summer catching up on reading and playing computer games.

This week, a classmate on the Discussion board said this:

"...Hr is only concerned about helping managers take actions in a way that avoids potential future lawsuits."

She is in my project group, too.

But my first paper is done and I have taken the midterm and I am getting through the reading. Four more weeks isn't so bad. I guess.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thought I'd Outgrown This

I got up from writing my paper to go to the bathroom. I came back, and saw this:

It's like high school all over again. With a cat.

How to Become a Great Boss, by Jeffrey J. Fox

Book 12

I picked up How to Become a Great Boss, by Jeffrey J. Fox as a reference book for my first paper this semester. Turns out it is pretty readable with short, illustrative vignettes.

One memorable moment came with "Don't Check Expense Accounts". Last month, my boss happened to be in town as I was completing an expense report, so I asked him to sign it while he was there. He signed it and handed it back to me. I hassled him - said that he should review it first. He refused. I didn't ask if it was that he didn't bother to review mine or if he didn't bother to review them in general.

So when I read in this book that we as managers are to trust our people's expense reports, I started to groan. The logic is that if people are cheating on them, Accounting will figure it out and we will have to fire them. Our job is to communicate what is allowed and not allowed, so that "misuse", which is a less dastardly offense than outright cheating, doesn't happen. Apparently, we ought to run occasional "audits" to be sure of that.

So my boss was back in town and I said, "I learned something in school..you were right and I was wrong." He told me to circle the date on the calendar. When I told him the story, he confessed that he wasn't actually aware that was a "good boss" thing.

Anyway. There were two other pieces I found interesting:

"7s Hire 5s." The idea here is that we had better hire the best people. Because if we hire mediocre people, they will hire less than mediocre people because mediocre people are intimidated by high achieving people.

"Spend 90% of Your Time with Your Best People" pointed out that sometimes we spend huge amounts of time with mediocre people, trying to get them to be great. The book suggests that they are not going to become great because we push them. They will become great if they really want to do so. We should spend the bulk of our time with our great people because it is a better investment.

This isn't the best management book ever, but it is a quick and interesting read that gave me a couple of things to think about. And a couple of quotes to cite in class. Two thumbs up.


I took a vacation day so that I could sleep late, wake up, read my notes one more time and take my midterm. Because today is Day 5 and the window to take the midterm is Day 5 - Day 7.

The midterm does not open until 5pm.

I am going to get a facial now.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The 24 Hour Rule

My boss is a huge proponent of the 24 Hour Rule. He has drilled into my head that there are not all that many decisions that have to be made instantly. While he was talking about workplace decisions, Lou Carlozo at the Chicago Tribune wrote about the 24 Hour Rule as it relates to spending money:

"Here’s how it works: When mulling any purchase over a certain amount, say $50, put it off for at least a day. Then ask yourself: Do I need this? Or do I want this? Can I possibly live without it for a while? Can I drop it? Can I search for a thriftier alternative?"

I love this. But I wonder. Does $50 mean $50 on one thing? With sales the way they are, I could go to Carson's and find a $20 shirt...and then another...and then another...

Right. As if I ever found three shirts that I liked in the same day.

Anyway - good advice here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Poor Pathetic Dog

Poor Shadow. My mother had a business dinner tonight. 9:43 p.m. and she isn't home. He won't come into my room, because he hates the wood laminate. So he is sitting at the top of the stairs. Waiting.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Salary Administration

MSN Careers had a great article called, "Everything You Should Know About Your Salary". Here is my favorite part:

"Wages and salaries are set according to a unique blend of external market competitiveness and internal equity considerations at each employer, Brennan says. Every organization has its own way of paying people, and many variables -- such as organization revenue size, number of employees, profitability, pay history, corporate culture, geographic location, competitive labor analysis, benefits and perks, and ease of commute -- are factors."

In my experience, people tend to think, "I work harder" or "I do a better job than the guy next to me, so I should get more money". First of all, that is your perception. It may not be your supervisor's. Second, the truth is that the market determines our salaries. Sure, there are other factors, like seniority, that are involved. But mostly it is the market. Third, I have a pretty good idea of what the market averages and medians are. Because my employer spends an awful lot of money paying experts to survey our industry, our geographical area and our positions. So don't quote salary.com to me.

Hm. I didn't mean that to be a rant.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ridiculous Sunday.

7:30 a.m. I head downstairs to feed the birds and give Eloise the Foster Grey her meds. There is a drop of blood on the paper in her cage. I give her the meds, and as I move to pick her up and look for any feathers that might be bleeding, she jumps to the floor. I pick her up. She flaps her wings and splatters blood all over my face, hands, refridgerator, floor, counter... Clearly, the feather has to be pulled. I take her to the bathroom.

I am not great with blood feathers to begin with and Greys are harder and Eloise is a particularly scary case. I call Rich at the Refuge. He is walking out the door to go back to the Pet Expo. I tell him I will give it a try myself.

By the time I get back to the bathroom with the supplies, she has flapped her wings some more and the bathroom looks like someone was murdered. (Have you ever seen the mini-series of Stephen King's It? Think young Bev's bathroom sink.) I stretch out her wing and see a big broken blood feather. And what might be a second. And a third. I call Rich and tell him I will meet him at the Expo.

When I arrive, Rich and Karen take her to the bathroom behind the Refuge booth. I can hear that it isn't pretty. It is more than one feather, and Karen has to hold her for several minutes to get the bleeding to stop. Chuck the dog in the next booth is still there. I talk to his volunteers for a few minutes. It is almost 9:30 before I am satisfied that she is done bleeding and settled down enough to take her home.

I run some errands, including a trip to the Library to pick up some books for my first paper. I still can't believe the Library doesn't open until 1pm on Sundays. Although, budgets being budgets, I suppose I shouldn't complain. Oh! But I will complain about this:

I stopped at Oberweis for a scoop of ice cream while waiting for the Library to open. Oberweis is a dairy that does old fashioned milk in the bottle. It sells to grocery stores and also has ice cream shops. I ordered a small scoop in a cup. $3.28. Is that remotely reasonable? It's good ice cream, but I wouldn't call it spectacular. I should have gone to McD's for a Shamrock Shake.

Anyway, I checked out my books and came home. Eloise didn't eat anything, so I brought her out on a table stand and gave her an almond butter sandwich. And a mini-rice cake. And apple. She ate while I watched Return of the Jedi on Spike TV and did some homework. Kiwi the Grey flitted around, as usual.

Sometime after five we tried a new crock pot recipe. Same as the first couple: it was fine, but for the effort of cooking, it didn't seem worth it. Eloise ate some rice. I gave her the evening meds, and brought the birds back to their cages with some snack. And oh damn, I just realized that it is 9:30 and I haven't "put them to bed" yet.

See ya.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Anne's Day Off

I took a vacation day to go downtown and see my financial advisor. I yelled at him for making me look at my 401(k). To make a long story short, he patted me on my little head, told me I was fine and said that I should go refinance my mortgage now.

Alrighty then.

So I headed out to the Chicagoland Pet Expo. The Pet Expo is a place for vendors to introduce pet products and an opportunity for the rescues to introduce adoptable animals to the public and raise some funds. The Refuge had a booth there, with several of the birds to meet the public. I stopped and chatted for awhile, then wandered around to shop for my zoo.
Here is what I found the next booth over:

His name is Chuck, he is about a year old and my mom won't let me have him! She has a list of "requirements" for our next dog that basically eliminates every breed. Chuck is not allowed because he has floppy ears that will be prone to infection. There are also dogs that are too big or too small. No dogs that have to go to the groomer. And no dogs that shed.


Anyway, I always carry around a lot of singles at the Pet Expo so that I can drop a dollar in the pockets of vests like Chuck's. The last couple of years, one rescue had a dog that would take the dollar from your hand and put it in a bucket. I didn't see him this year. But I saw the Dobermans, the German Shepards, the White Shepards, the Greyhounds, the Border Collies...you get the idea.

Sham-wow had a booth. I bought a set of those. You laugh, but you have no idea how many paper towels I have gone through with Eloise the Foster Grey in the house.

And then I went home to do my homework. Because that is what I do on Friday nights these days.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Good Night at the Library and other stuff

I haven't posted about the Library in awhile. The construction has made the parking situation unbearable, but at least it is progress. And we currently have 554 books listed on our Amazon Storefront. We've had to clear out shelf space and it still isn't enough:

I can't wait until we have our new space.

Anyway, I listed several books, including an Oprah book that sold in the first hour. In that same box, I found a Ward Just novel that I haven't read yet that isn't worth a thing, so I bought it myself for a dollar. As if I have time to read novels right now.

I caught some of the AU vs. Villanova game on espn.com. It looks like they had a great first half and then collapsed.

I got some homework done.

And I finally had a good payroll conversion day at work. So I am happy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

In the Continuing Mission...

To find the perfect hand cream...I am trying The Body Shop's Almond Oil Daily Hand and Nail Cream:

First, it does not smell like almonds. Or Amaretto. It didn't promise to smell like almonds, and it doesn't smell bad. Just sayin'.

It absorbs pretty quickly, which is good for the office. You can't type right that second after applying, but it isn't all greasy, either. The down side of that is that it doesn't quite last as long as it might.

A long two hours is about how long I go between potty breaks and washing my hands. So re-applying that often is standard. This product doesn't quite last that long.

Bottom line: Decent, if expensive pick for the office. I wouldn't use it at home, and certainly not for an overnight cream.

Monday, March 16, 2009

It's All My Fault

When my nephew was born, and my brother asked me to be his godmother, there were jokes aplenty about how children inherit traits from their godparents. Whenever Alex exhibits something…odd…it is pegged on me:

Bossy/Stubborn/Doesn’t share toys
Fits of temper
Hates to be woken up
Picky eater

Stuff like that.

My niece, Ainslie, (age three months) has no early warning signs of these traits. She is very easy going except for a couple of non-negotiables. She does not tolerate dirty diapers, for example. But she is very patient, particularly with Alex who gets in her face a lot.

I am not Ainslie’s godmother. But this weekend, I was still pegged:

We asked how she was doing in daycare. “Daycare” is a neighbor’s house, where there are a few other young children. Alex was there until he started pre-school. Daycare lady said she is very pleasant, and doesn’t cry a lot, but she likes her “alone time”. What does that mean?

“Sometimes, she just wants to be left alone. She doesn’t even want to be held.”

My brother announced, “She gets that from Aunt Anne. Aunt Anne doesn’t like to be touched too much.”

Oh, fine.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Help! Was that a Career Limiting Move? by Pamela J. Holland and Marjorie Brody

Book 9 (Which I seem to have skipped over earlier)

Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move? was literally assigned reading in my current course, "Managing People, Professionals and Teams". This is a business etiquette book. It was a whole bunch of short pieces that sometimes might be considered no-brainers. It was all good material, but trying to read it all in one sitting was a bit much. Some favorites:

The idea that you are here to serve the work, the work is not here to serve you. It was in a piece about how no job is perfect.

Do not stand directly behind someone at his or her computer. You are invading personal space.

Keep your shoes on.

There was also an interesting statistic about smoking (the advice was to quit) that makes me wonder about hiring discrimination:

Smoking employees have 34% more absences from work, are 29% more likely to have industrial accidents and are 40% more likely to suffer occupational injuries.

I am totally going to leave this at my desk.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Would You Believe?

I left my textbook at my desk at work?

And I'm not going back to get it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

As if I Needed One More Reason to Love Warren Buffett

USA Today gave me this:

His base salary remained at $100,000, the same level it's been for more than 25 years. He picked up an additional $75,000 for director's fees from some outside companies in which Berkshire has significant investments. That pay did not change from 2007 either.

Buffett, one of the most successful investors of all time, has been an outspoken critic of lavish executive compensation packages at other companies. In keeping with that philosophy, his own company doesn't award large pay packages or give out perks or stock options.

Cutting Expenses

MSN Money ran an article called 4 Expenses You Shouldn't Cut. I was particularly interested in the pieces on prescription drugs and car maintenance. My mechanic recently told me that he is seeing people forgo regular maintenance a lot lately. Worse - when the price of gas shot up, he twice had the same customer call him because he ran out of gas. I didn't even ask how much he charged to rescue someone that ran out of gas. On the Kennedy Expressway. Anyway - I know that many cars do not specifically require an oil change every 3,000 miles. But. From the article:

There is an added benefit of a regular oil change. While getting it changed, your mechanic will check all the fluid levels in your car, helping ensure your safety on the road, Ammons says.

That is exactly what I think.

I also liked the part about raising your deductible - as long as you stash the different somewhere in your savings. I should look at that stuff again.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Telephone Etiquette

Miss Manners wrote on a subject that touched pretty close to home. A reader complained about two people in her life that quiz her on her whereabouts whenever she fails to answer the phone (home or cell).

My solution is simple - I tell the whole world that I almost never answer the phone. And almost no one hassles me. Well - there was one guy in my office voicemail saying - not to me - "God! This woman is never at her phone!"

At work, I get so many sales calls that any number I don't recognize is sent straight to my voicemail. Just now I was trapped by someone with a survey because the area code was the same as my other office and I thought one of my people might be calling from a cell phone. That is not going to happen again (today). I also don't return calls from people that I don't know if they don't tell me why they are calling me.

At home, I might hear the phone. I might see the caller i.d. I might get up to answer it. But you really can't count on that. E-mail is better.

Incidentally, Miss Manners suggested that there is no need to apologize. "I was away from the phone" is a perfectly acceptable response.

Talking Cutbacks

MSN Money ran an article the other day called, “10 Cutbacks You’ll See At Work”. As I read through the list and saw things like “Travel” and “Parties”, I thought that was nothing and I am happy to be working.

“Eliminating 401(k) match”? OK. “Hiring freeze”? We’re doing that. Not too long ago, one of the news magazines asked the question, “Would you take a 10% cut in pay so that your employer didn’t have to lay off 10% of the workforce? How about 20%?”

That one could give you a headache.

The “Healthcare” one could hurt. We have struggled for years to maintain a balance between company cost and what we pass on to employees. And I am not entirely sure how I feel about the “Training Budget” one. On one hand, there are things – like Harassment Prevention – where I just don’t want to mess with it. On the other hand, if that is a line item on the budget cuts that can ultimately save jobs, I can’t argue.

So today, let those of us that are working be thankful. And make sure that our résumés are current.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Quote of the Day

I just saw the Quote of the Day my widget-thing produced:

Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are. Kurt Cobain

Was that supposed to be irony?

New Session

As you can tell by the book to the left, I have started my next class. I am happy to say I will not be required to take my mid-term at the HR Conference. But otherwise I am counting down the weeks until the end of the semester.

I mentioned that I have booked my summer vacation. Funny thing..several years ago, in a Myers-Briggs seminar, the facilitator asked whether we prefer to take vacations with other people or take them alone. She was establishing the difference between extroverts and introverts.


Last year, I did the solo road trip, which rocked. This year, I am headed back to New Orleans with Rich and Jodi and whomever else they invite. I am pretty excited about it.

And I kept my B+ in Accounting.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mileage Plus Choices

After United Airlines announced the recent changes to the Mileage Plus program, I noticed a new benefit to Mileage Plus cardholders:

No restrictions, no blackout periods, any flight. If you book the flight on United.com, charge the flight to your Mileage Plus Visa, and you can put in a request to redeem miles for up to the cost of the ticket as a credit to your Visa account.

I have been sitting on a whole bunch of miles for so long that they are going to expire. I was planning to use them to go overseas, but I just don’t fee like going overseas this year. That’s a different rant, though.

I am going to New Orleans this summer, so I planned to try this new trick on my flight. But it turned out that my flight was not blacked out or restricted and I was able to use the standard 25,000 mile redemption. Then I saw all of the other things I could have using miles.

Red Carpet Club was tempting. But then I saw that I could use it on the hotel.

The best hotel deals seem to involve pre-payment. I’ve been to New Orleans several times, and there weren’t any hotels that I know that weren’t on United’s list. So after going back and forth with my friend Jodi for a few days, we settled on a nice looking hotel that had really good rates for the week of Memorial Day.

I reserved two rooms, and put them on my credit card. Today, I went for the credit.

The good news is that it isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. If the bill is $1,000 and you only have (or want to use) enough miles for half of it, you can. There is a calculator feature that tells you exactly how many miles you have, how many it will cost and how many you will have left.

The bad news is that it isn’t tied to your flight miles, only to the miles you have earned on the credit card. Significantly fewer, in my case. And only those earned since January 1, 2006. Now, I didn’t want to cash in the whole bill, anyway, because I pre-paid for two rooms and Jodi is going to pay me back for her half. But I thought I could do my half. In the end, I was able to put in for a redemption of $540.00 – most of the expense for my five nights. It cost me 67,500 miles. I have no idea how that compares to other programs.

Assuming the “request” is accepted, it will be 3-5 days before the credit hits my account. Well in advance of the Visa's closing date.

I wouldn’t have tried this for a trip that I couldn’t otherwise afford to take. And since I primarily use my Amex (cash back) these days, it is unlikely I will be able to use this feature again any time soon. But it seems to have worked for me.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Raves and Rants

I was saying that a lady in our office shaved her head for St. Baldrick’s Day. I saw her yesterday and she looks great. I'd post a picture, but I think that is crossing the line. Some women can pull off that look and she sure does. I asked her how she worked up the nerve. Her hair was as long as mine.

“I hated my hair,” she said. The event was the excuse to start all over. And now she can try every hairstyle in between. She is my hero.

And now to gripe about my job (which you aren’t supposed to do on the Internet)…

There are some cool things about working in HR and some things that are terrible. One of the terribles?

People assume that if someone is talking to me – sitting down in my workspace or theirs – that someone is about to get fired. It makes me crazy.

First. How often does someone really get fired around here? Second. Do you really think I am going to talk about that in a cubicle? Third. Is that all you think HR does? Plot to fire people? But mostly…

It’s personal. Do you really think that no one in this whole company talks to me about anything other than the termination of employment? That just hurts my feelings.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

Book 11

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield, was a "Barnes & Noble Recommends" book. I found it a week or so ago at Half Price Books and started reading it because it was at the top of the pile of To Be Read books that won't fit on my To Be Read bookcase.

You know those books that you read slowly because you just want to sink into it for awhile? I read this a chapter or two at a time over lunch last week, and I was loving it. Then I dove in an finished it this weekend.


Mousy bookshop chic is hired out of nowhere by England's pre-eminent novelist to write her biography as she lay dying in Yorkshire. Novelist has famously lied about her life's story to every interviewer since the beginning of time.

The book is rather blatantly modeled after the gothic novels - the Bronte sisters, etc. - which can be annoying, but mostly I appreciated. It also has the story-within-a-story element, kind of like The Blind Assassin. The difference is that Margaret Atwood made sure that the story-within-a-story did not overshadow the main plot. Setterfield did a much better job of the story-within-a-story than in creating sympathy or empathy for the narrator.

OK, so here is what I liked - Vida Winter, the novelist, talking about why she is finally telling her true life's story:

"My study throngs with characters waiting to be written. Imaginary people, anxious for a life, who tug at my sleeve, crying, 'Me next! Go on! My turn!' I have to select. And once I have chosen, the others go quiet for ten months or a year, until I come to the end of a story and the clamor starts up again."

Then she talks about this woman in the window, or mirror or whatever, that is patiently waiting for her story to be told.

"The day came when I finished the final draft of my final book. I wrote the last sentence, placed the last full stop. I knew what was coming. The pen slipped from my hand and I closed my eyes. 'So,' I hear her say, or perhaps it was me, 'it's just the two of us now."

That is kind of how I imagine it is to be a novelist.

In the great tradition of the great novels, the narrator is far, far less interesting than the subject of the narration. She made great observations about books and readers. One was about starting a new book too quickly, before the “membrane” of the last book finished has a chance to close. I appreciated those thoughts. However, there is a theme of twins and other halves that I found tiresome. For example:

Narrator is a twin whose sister died shortly after their birth. Narrator doesn’t learn about this until the age of ten, snooping around her parents’ stuff. Her mother never recovered from the loss. During the action of the book, she looks up and sees a woman’s face in the window. “My sister!” she thinks. No. Her reflection.

Less of this melodrama and more of her actual relationship with her mother would have suited me better. But then I am complaining about the gothic-novelishness, and that isn’t quite fair.

Whatever my petty gripes, this book kept me engaged and I enjoyed it.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spring is Here

(I seem to have blocked out that sundae...)

The Innocent, by Ian McEwan

Book 10

The Innocent is an earlier Ian McEwan novel. Set in Berlin, 1955, it is the story of a young British man sent to work on a joint intelligence project with the Americans.

The illustration of post-war Germany was cool. The Cold War paranoia, with the defeated German population stuck in between. The best part of it for me was the British observations of the Americans.

In the beginning, it was very basic: Remember in Golden Eye, when James Bond meets up with the American Marine? Like that. Then, later in the novel, when The Innocent is no longer so innocent, he reflects on the American military men.

"They think of everything, he thought, the Americans. They wanted to make things possible, and easy. They wanted to look after you. This pleasant lightweight staircase with the nonslip treads and chain-link bannisters, the Coke machines in the corridors, steak and chocolate milk in the canteen. He had seen grown men drink chocolate milk. The British would have kept the vertical ladder because difficulty was part of a secret operation. Americans thought of "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Tutti Frutti" and playing catch on the rough ground outside, grown men with chocolate-milk mustaches playing ball. They were the innocent. How could you steal secrets from them?"

This is why I like McEwan.

My problem with the book is that I cannot believe what the characters did. OK - SPOILERS HERE:

Bad guy shows up and tries to kill Main Character and Girl. Bad Guy ends up dead. Main character and Girl dismember and hide his body.

Really? You're a British intelligence officer in post-war Berlin, you kill a guy in self-defense and this is how you handle it? Really?

McEwan is famous for the shocking things that happen to his characters. Well done in Atonement. Even better in Saturday. But it is really his use of observation and language that keeps me going back.

Friday, March 6, 2009

St. Baldrick's Day

For the second year in a row, a group from my office has participated in St. Baldrick’s Day, a fundraiser to fight cancer in children. Seven of my co-workers had their heads shaved at the event – one was a lady with perfectly lovely hair, I might add. After I made my online donation, the organization sent me this video. I figured the least I could do is post it:

Happy St. Baldrick’s Day!

Catching Up

My final exam grade was just released. I thought I choked and landed with an 80. And that is before my classmates start arguing with the professor about that one marked wrong when the answer I marked was taken directly from the textbook. At the end of the course, I think I will end up with my B+.

In other news: My car was making a scary noise, so she went to the shop today. Suspension, it was suspected. From the potholes. I was all prepared for a $500 bill. It was only $215. Because I was feeling so lucky that my six year old car is not costing a fortune, I ran through a mental list of the next things that will need repair.

The battery. I called my mechanic back. "Have I ever had my battery replaced?"

Him: "I don't think so."

Me: "She's six years old and has 65,000 miles. How long do batteries last?"

Him: "That long. If you are lucky."

Me: "I'm lucky."

Him: "I'll check."

Then Rich and Karen, Rescue Directors Extraordinaire, brought Kiwi's new Java tree to my house. Perks of volunteering - they even helped me build it. Check her out:

And finally, Spooky the Cat, who seems to have gained a bit of weight since his check up a few weeks ago:

Is still just licking the gravy off of his "filets".(wow, the difference between "e-mail and copy" pictures and "import" has never been quite so clear)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I Don't Even Know What to Title This

Laurie from Punk Rock HR wrote a post yesterday that was so funny I laughed out loud. Here is the punch line:

“I am making this confession because your company is spending six figures to implement a Gallup employee survey and you are not asking a critical question:

Where do you poop?

Believe me, the answer is both a valid and reliable measurement of how employees feel about your company”

Monday, March 2, 2009

Final Exams

My Real-Life friends have heard this story before..so be it:

When I was at AU, (before 9/11) there was an occassional bomb threat called into the big buildings during Finals Week. There was never a bomb, so we always figured some desperate kid was going to inconvenience the world because he was unprepared.

My junior year, I showed up to my Corporate Finance final only to hear the professor say there had been a bomb threat and we would re-schedule the final. I was prepared for this test. As I pondered exactly how put out I was by the re-schedule, several others went crazy.

No, they said. We are prepared for this test and want to take it right now. Can we do it on the quad?

The professor looked at us. How many wanted to take the test that minute on the quad? At least half of us raised our hands. So we were allowed to take the test on the quad while the building was being searched. The others were allowed to re-schedule.

We are in the Final Exam window for my Accounting Class. I took it on Saturday - totally choked, by the way - but the people who were scheduled for today are in large part snowed out. BU's campus is shut down altogether. and many testing centers are also closed on the East Coast.

You might think it is some kind of reprieve, but it actually throws off your whole schedule. If you thought you were going to be done today, but have to keep studying to keep it fresh, it is a hassle. Thought you were going to have that week off of class? Now it is down to four days. Though you were going to get ahead of the next one? Not so much.

And for me, waiting to find out just how badly I choked?

I don't even want to talk about that.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wait Till Next Year, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Book 8 - 2009

My mother could not believe that I was reading, "a baseball book". But Doris Kearns Goodwin writes good American history, so I figured her memoir, Wait Till Next Year, had to be worth something. And it was.

In her introduction, she says that she had been interviewed by Ken Burns for his documentary on baseball. Apparently she was one of the few chicks in the country that could speak about baseball as both an historian and a fan. She said that after the documentary aired, people would come up to her after a speaking engagement or whatever, and they didn't want to talk about Kennedys or Johnsons or Roosevelts, but the Brooklyn Dodgers.

So she started writing about baseball and it turned into a whole thing about the 1950s and the first TV on the block and the making of a generation blahblahblah. So she had to do real research and real interviews.

Goodwin lived on Long Island, so in her neighborhood, any given family could be rooting for one of the three New York teams. Her best friend/next door neighbor was a Giants fan, for example. She had some good material there.

I liked that she related the art of recording the game stats to telling a story. She tagged that early experience - giving her father the play-by-play when he came home from work - to pursuing a career in history. Things we should be teaching our kids.

So we follow Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella and the rest through many seasons of tragedy. (As if a fan from Chicago needs any help, there.) Then they finally win one, and two years later, Jackie Robinson retires and the Dodgers move to L.A.

Mixed in are the inevitable stories of bomb shelters and Joe McCarthy. Goodwin blends them in pretty well. At the end of the day, this is just a coming-of-age story. Written with a historian's sense of perspective. Good read.