Monday, December 29, 2008

My perfect latkes

Yesterday I fullfilled a year's worth of social obligations by hosting an open house for Chanukah. We had more than 40 people in our teeny house, with kids running mad in the back half and grownups sipping mulled wine and nibbling food in the front half. I love that about my house -- the playroom is separate from the living room and parties always break out this way.

I served my famous latkes -- famous mainly because few of our friends are Jewish or if they are, no one bakes them like I do. I don't really have my own recipe -- I fake most of the quanities, but I do have a secret. And since I ought to post something today, here's my recipe, which I'm now writing out for the first time:

5 lbs of potatoes (or if you have big plans like my party, double or triple this!)
1 medium onion
3 tbsp flour
2 eggs
1-2 tsp salt
1/2-1 tsp pepper
Lots of oil

Peel potatoes. Rest wrists, and whatever you do, don't try to bowl that night (lesson learned the hard way while husband gloated). Peel onion and chop in half.

Using food processor (unless you are masochistic!), grate potatoes and onions in batches. Change to main blade in food processor. Process shredded stuff in batches with a short burst, 20 seconds or so, to make mixture less stringy. Using hands, then squeeze out all the liquid handful by handful. Rest hands again. Get wrist massage if possible (not in my house, but maybe your partner is more into this than mine).

Add flour, egg, salt and pepper to mixture. Heat oil in frying pan over medium heat. Using large spoon, drop latke-sized amount of batter onto frying pan. When brown edges appear, flip latkes until golden brown on both sides. Remove from pan to paper towel (to absorb a lot of the oil -- don't want them greasy!).

Serve hot, with sour cream and/or apple sauce.

There, family secret recipe revealed. The trick is the second run through the food processor, and of course squeezing out the potato liquid.

Happy Chanukah!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Who gets the last word in emails?

I'm in PR , and today I pitched a story to a reporter who writes for my local daily and who also has a blog. She bit and wrote back, so I sent her a document, and later she emailed to tell me she posted it on her blog, so I wrote back to say thanks and happy holidays, and she wrote back to say me too.

I've stopped the back and forth now, but who should have the last word, and when do you stop thanking someone for an email greeting?

This happens a lot, when you send someone something, they write thanks, do you write back that they're welcome and so on? Is it rude not to answer every email? But if it is, when is it okay to stop replying? There must be an etiquette guide for this kind of thing.

Anyhow, happy Hanukkah and Christmas to you all. Maybe I'll get lots of comments now wishing me the same back, so I'll comment back to them, and so on, and so on.....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The morning commute

Normally when I have to come to my part time job, I bus. It's clear across town from my home, and I always suspected that the drive would be not much shorter than the bus ride, so why waste the gas, I thought, and why not sit and read. Of course, I spend a couple hours each work day just getting here and home, but I'm reading a lot of books.

Anyhow, earlier this week my office had a holiday potluck, so I needed to bring in food (I made latkes, potato pancakes we eat at Chanukah, a secret Santa gift (lucky me, even though I have a pedicure set at home I'm anxious to regift to someone, I drew a man about whom I knew nothing), and some clothes my kids had outgrown that I was passing on to someone here. So I drove. Of course, the one day I chose to drive turned out to be two days after we sold our second car and became a one-car family. It also turned out to be the day after Vancouver's first snow of the year. Do I pick 'em or what?

Anyhow, my loving husband, who of course believes he knows significantly more about driving than me (I admit he knows more about cars, but not about how to drive!), recommended a particular route to traverse the city eastward, and silly me, I listened to him. It turned out to be an incredibly slow-moving route, and it took me more than an hour to arrive at the office (the bus takes about 55 minutes door to door). Still, the driving wasn't too bad, roads were okay, and I picked my own route home and it was only 40 minutes.

And loving husband survived just fine without the car for the day. He got the kids to school, walked to the grocery store, etc. Good thing he didn't have to go to work that day though. And today I'm back on my bus -- thank goodness because first off, I missed my book time (I'm reading the John Grisham football novel now) and because it's snowing again, and much harder today. No point in taking my chances in a car when I can leave it to the bus driver to figure out how to drive up the hill.

Of course, it's still snowing as the day goes on, and this city doesn't cope well with snow, so I expect the commute home to be nuts. At least I'll have my book!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The office Christmas party

Last night was my new office's Christmas, I mean Holiday party. Calling it a holiday party is silly -- it was all about Christmas, even though at least five of us don't celebrate Christmas. Whatever.

Anyhow, it was the first office party I've had to attend in many, many years, and the first my hubby had to be dragged to in many years. Mr. unsociable had the advantage though, since I agreed to be designated driver and he got to drink. I was pretty worried about the party -- I don't know these people very well, and I don't want to make the wrong impression. But at the same time, I wanted to appear sociable and fit in.

We were on a boat cruise, which while pleasant enough means there is no leaving early. We ended up at a table with people I didn't know, but older people (our office joined with another association for the party) and not the young'uns that make up most of my co-workers. Still, there was lots of mingling and mixing through the night, and I think I managed to convey just the right image in the end.

I didn't get out on the dance floor with the dozen young'uns and boyfriends, so I avoided looking like an old fogey trying to fit in. But we did a lot of schmoozing and chatting and got to know some people a bit better (especially the guy I have to buy a secret santa gift for). I had a fine time, but I can't say it was fabulous.

Of course, hubby became semi-social and had probably a better time than me. But then again, he was drinking. ;-)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Why Gen Xers like me won't have retirement parties

Last night, I went to a retirement party for my favourite client. I'm very dissapointed to be losing this man as my client (I don't know if his replacement will keep working with me or not), but I am also sad to lose regular contact with him as he enters the retiree world.

So I stayed for hte whole party, including all the speeches. He has had a 39 career in the federal public service, so there were a lot of stories about old collegues (none of whom I know) and previous positions (I've only known him for three years). It was all a bit dull for me, but it made me think about what a retirement party for me or someone like me would be like.

And I realized that it wouldn't. I couldn't have a party with people there that had worked with me my whole career. I haven't stayed put anywhere long enough for that to happen, and I don't forsee that happening at any point in the rest of my career either.

A job for life is something the baby boomers had, but it's not something most Gen Xers have, nor is it at all something the generations following us will have. Does this mean retirement parties like my client's are soon to be a thing of the past? What will a retirement look like in twenty years? No gold watch, but will there be people to celebrate the end of work with, or will it just be a winding down and closing of doors.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Buy Nothing Day

Today is Buy Nothing Day around the world. It was yesterday in the US, the biggest shopping day of the year being the Friday after American Thanksgiving. And since the economy is in the toilet, you'd think this would be an easy day to get behind.

I was all for it. I wrote up Buy Nothing Day yesterday in my email newsletter to 1200 moms (a weekly output of my side business encouraging them to take part. And I planned my shopping yesterday so I could get it all bought the day before.

So much for my plans. Yes, I bought fruit and veggies yesterday, but turns out we're out of eggs and milk, so I'll have to get some groceries today.

And I bought my son new runners yesterday (third pair in three months! I don't know how he manages it.), but forgot to repair the zipper on my other kid's jacket, so I have to go pay for that today too. Plus one of my kids is "desperate" for a pencil sharpener. That makes three stores I have to go to today.

Ah well, at least my heart is in the right place. I think it's a might unfair to expect a working mom to buy nothing on a Saturday. Maybe on a Tuesday next year?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thinking back to the last year of high school as party prep

Last weekend, some friends invited us to a house party. Yes, an honest-to-goodness house party, with chips and dip, a few kegs and even California Coolers. How do they get away with being grownups and throwing this high-school level party? They gave it a theme.

The theme here was wear what you wore your last year in high school (it was originally wear what you wore when you graduated, but it soon came to light that not everyone graduated in the traditional way, so they changed the theme). I graduated high school in 1985 (yes, if you're doing the math, that does mean I finished a year early. Smartie-pants here skipped fourth grade [social suicide by the way, but that's a whole other post. In fact, I think it's probably a whole other blog!]), so I searched for 80s clothes, and found myself tripping back to the early days.

Am I nostalgic for high school? Not in the least. It was nice to be young and not have ripples where my tummy used to be, but otherwise high school was not a happy-go-lucky time (see above re: social suicide). But I liked the clothes and styles when I was living in the 80s. Somehow they seemed fun and flattering. Of course now, with my retrospective eyesight, they look goofy and outdated. But boy, was it fun to dig out the leg warmers (no, I didn't wear them) and the shoulder pads (yes, I did).

I discovered that I actually had got rid of most of my 80s clothes. I thought I'd kept more, but being married to a man who tosses thing out as a hobby, it's hard to be a hoarder forever. But I did have skinny-legged jeans (not from back then -- the chances of my fitting jeans from then was so out-of-this-world -- heck, the chances of fitting jeans from before my babies were born is just as remote!), and I have a lovely blouse with huge shoulder pads (why haven't I tossed that yet I don't know!), So I tucked my blouse into my pants and pulled it out so it ruffled over my pants. Then I added a great scarf that has come back into style so-I'm-told, but one I remember wearing in a song competition in grade 11. And I found penny loafers in the back of the closet.

But the most fun part was the hair. I hated my curly hair in high school, and used to blow it dry so it turned out fluffy instead of curly. It gave the effect of big hair, which of course we wanted then. So I styled my 80s hair, added a bow, and I think I achieved the perfect look.

The real downer came when I got to the party. Because besides my husband, for most of the party, I was the oldest person there, and in this case we were wearing it on our sleeves (literally for all those 90s grads wearing their lettermen jackets from their private schools). Eventually a few 80s grads showed up, but the whole thing left me feeling:

a) old
b) glad it's not the 80s anymore

c) nostalgic for 90s styles.

And no, I didn't take a photo of myself dressed up, sorry.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ideological differences at work may be a problem

This part time job I've taken may not be the answer to all my problems after all. While I like the work and am growing more comfortable with the hours, I think my President isn't the kind of guy who can be comfortable with a telecommuting communications director. He's made a few comments lately that have me questioning how long he'll put up with the part time thing. He's from the old school, where everyone who worked for him served him, so despite being a nice guy, he likes being able to walk down the hall whenever he's in the office (which is less than half time in my experience so far) to ask a question, and is less comfortable with phone or email for that kind of thing.

So I'm starting to wonder if the solution for this company is really me, or if they really want a full timer. And now that the economy has tanked, even in our Olympic city, the job market has likely changed enough for him to find a full timer that meets his needs.

Then there's the ideological differences between us. I am generally a progressive, liberal thinker. I work for environmental causes, support all thing sustainable and generally lean away from conservatism. But this association is all about conservative, pro-business, anti-labour etc. While not every issue challenges my morals -- so far the biggest issue that might I'm okay with -- I can't see me doing this full time or long term when I don't agree with their ideology. And frankly, I think the President sees that too.

It's not that anyone has told me it's even close to over. I think we all think it's too soon to judge. And the personality fit so far is okay. I just think it's starting to come to light this week that my ideal work situation and their ideal communications situation may not be aligned in the long term.

So now what? Do I restart the blog as 41-now what? I'm a bit down about it all today. While I'm growing comfortable with the job, I'm also realizing that it won't last. So I'm back to the big question of what will I be when I grow up. And I have more questions now than answers. Plus, a year later my economic options are more limited than they were last year, which in itself raises more issues.

Perhaps I'll go back to my list of women in my field with more experience than me and restart my conversations with them, in order to gain more perspective and more clarity. The job isn't going anywhere in the next month or two, so I have a bit of a cushion to sort it out.

Or maybe I'll change my mind and decide this is the job situation for me, or even the employer for me. Or maybe they'll decide they like the challenge my ideals bring to their way of thinking, that having me around keeps them from "drinking their own bathwater" and offers an alternative point of view. Maybe they like what I have to offer skills-wise so much they work around my part time status.

Maybe... or maybe not...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Technology comfort and the generations

My baby boomer client today showed his ignorance and disinterest in all things new technology.

We were discussing how he can have more face-time (don't you hate that buzzword?!) with me even if I'm not in his office, and I suggested we can set up webcams and do regular conference calls, and he waved his hand dismissively and said "Carla, I'm too old for that kind of high tech stuff." He's only in his early 50s, but really has no clue. I'm seeing the generational technology gap first hand right here.

All the 20-somethings in the office spend a bit of time every day on their Facebook pages. So do the 30-somethings, and I admit to checking mine fairly regularly too. But this guy barely knows what Facebook is. He didn't know what Twitter was until he read an article in the weekend newspaper. He was shocked to learn about Blackberry Messenger today, even though he's had a crackberry for years and years. I can't wait until I bridge the idea of a podcast to him next month.

I think the nicest thing about working for him is that even at 40, he makes me feel so young. ;-)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Grey hair -- to colour or not to colour, my child asks the question

I have grey hair. In fact, I have many grey hairs. I also have many more dark brown ones, so overall my hair doesn't look very grey. But they're there, and they are quite visible.

As my son pointed out last night. We were sitting around the dinner table and he leans toward me, points towards the part in my hair at the scalp, and says "Gee mommy, you have a bunch of grey hair. Why don't you dye it?"

Good question, but still, who wants their grey hair pointed out?

I have dyed my hair before. Three times, to be exact, unless you count that time in high school when my sister and I did home highlights that turned the tips of my hair kind of burgandy in colour). I am not one to colour her hair. I've always liked my dark, full brown head of hair, and have always been one for the natural look. But last year when I turned 39, my hairdresser talked me into doing a colour. So I dyed out all the grey, and while I got a few compliments, mostly no one noticed. And no one said anything when the colour faded and the grey grew back in. I dyed it two more times this past year -- well, I turned 40 after all!! But they dye is growing out and the grey is growing in, and now someone has noticed.

Should I keep dying my hair to hide the grey? I guess I look younger without the grey, but I know I don't look 40, so does it matter? Should I stay a staunch advocate of the natural look, or use what humanity invented and hide the ravages of age?

Should I let my seven year old decide this for me?

Monday, November 10, 2008

I'm an asset now that my childbearing years are over

When I was in discussions for my part time job, one of the guys said they liked the fact that I'm done having kids, since I won't be taking any more maternity leaves on their employ. At the time I didn't think much of it, but now that I'm here, I see his point.

I look around this office of about 20 people and there are about 10 women here who are expected to have a baby sometime in the next five years. Seriously. Imagine the turmoil when that starts happening!

The work here, outside of management jobs like mine and a few others, is mainly administrative, so there are a lot of women here between 25-35. A bunch of them are married, young, and three just bought their first homes last month. Three! They've all talked about "when I have kids" so you know it's on their minds.

So here we have it, another reason why a Gen Xer is an asset to a workplace -- my childbearing years are behind me! (and before you flame me telling me that women in their 40s have kids a lot, I know that, but I personally am done with having babies, and find that most women of 40 are also putting those years behind them.)

I wonder if Gen Y will be very different parents than us, especially when it comes to work-life balance? Hmmmmm

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's an old boys club -- but I don't mind

My part time job is for a construction assocation, so it should come as little surprise that there are a lot of 'good old boys' around here. Not really on staff, because most of the work is administrative, which means that most of our staff are under 30 and ethnically diverse. But the background players, the power brokers, and the president and vice, the two staff with whom I interact the most, are definately in the 'old boys' vein.

There's a lot of swearing, and not a lot of genteel language when we three sit down to chat, which seems to be most workdays that I'm in the office.

But I find I don't mind. And I find that fact surprising. I've spent most of my career dealing with language, and I actually find it pretty refreshing to be able to use four letter words, in context only, when I want to. And there's nothing degrading or derogatory in the banter with these guys. If anything, it's honest and respectful, in a sometimes joking kind of way.

I think the reason I'm comfortable with the environment is that it doesn't feel exclusionary -- I fit in when we talk in that manner. And the fact that they include me in their usual manner, makes me feel more a part of things here. Whodathunk I'd be happy about an old boys style of work?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Cake in the workplace

Today is an office day, so I'm at the client's, and I can't get over how much cake there is. Between meeting left overs, staff birthdays, and other stuff, people bring in a lot of cake.

Today alone, there was a box of donut holes to celebrate one twentysomething's birthday, leftover muffins from a morning meeting, and half a Costco cake one person brought in because it was left over from her kid's birthday party yesterday.

This office thing is not good for my waistline!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sheesh, two weeks since I posted?

How sad am I? More than two weeks of well meant intentions, great ideas and well thought out theses and I've managed to post nothing on this blog. Shame on me.

I had tons to say. I wanted to write about the pressure to party on Halloween, especially with it happening on a Friday this week.

I wanted to write about something going on at my job that is stretching my idealogy because I don't really agree with the stand my assocation is taking.

I wanted to write about the difficulty in managing the pressures of competing priorities between freelance clients and the job.

I wanted to write about my lack of comitment to excerzie since the triathlon and how my fitness and my weight are suffering.

I wanted to write about the Gen X/Gen Y dynamic I'm living in my workplace.

I wanted to write about the backroom-boys language and "joshing" I get with the two guys I work with the most.

I wanted to write more often. Now that I've listed all my blog ideas, maybe I will.

I hope.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Wanna buy my side business?

Besides my part time job, and my full-time freelance career, I own another side business. I started it when I had my first baby and was looking for new challenges. The first year, my business did very well, and it justified about a third of my work time. Then the competition came in and it didn't pay as well anymore, so I kept it going but didn't put much time into it.

Six and a half years later, I still own and run the business, but barely spend much time on it. It's called Movies for Mommies, and I own the license rights for my area. Basically, I rent out an independent movie theatre every other week in the afternoon (used to be every week years ago but that doesn't make a lot of business sense anymore), and screen a grown-up film, and moms (and dads) with their babies come to watch a film. We make it all infant friendly, setting up a change table with free wipes and diapers, stroller parking, bottle warming, giving away samples and prizes, and bringing in speakers for short presentations before the film. Moms love us, and I have terrific word of mouth and great goodwill. I have a hostess who is at the theatre every screening, and most weeks I get 70-100 grown ups each screening.

Movies for Mommies has now expanded (I was the first licensee outside of Toronto) and we are now in five provinces. We now have national sponsors and national advertisers. I have local advertisers too, but not very many.

At the start, I was all over the city talking to moms groups, landing baby stores as advertisers, looking for RESP companies as sponsors. But after a few years, I stopped doing much marketing. Things tick along without my efforts, and my time gets better rewards working in PR. I still program the movies, deal with the theatre owner (!) and send out a weekly e-mail newsletter. I like picking the films and writing the e-newsletter, but all the rest is a bit tiresome. And I feel like someone else with more enthusiasm would do more for Movies for Mommies.

But despite discreetly putting out the word in "baby business" circles, I haven't found a buyer. So I keep it all ticking along. Mamma Mia got a good crowd this week, and The Women is coming next, so that should be popular. But with all the time pressure on me lately, it really seems like I should make a move to sell it.

I think one of the most frustrating things about owning this business is that I spend a lot of money to bring in a film for other people to see, but I don't have time during a weekday to sit and watch a film, so I don't get to see it until it comes out on DVD. I still haven't seen Sex and the City.

So, wanna buy my business? ;-)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Keeping all the balls in the air

It's been a busy week. I've had to squeeze in the job (and the commute), three other client deadlines, and Rosh Hashana, which meant a day at synagogue and another day cooking for a crowd of 13. Dinner went great though, and I did make chicken soup with matzah balls and my grandmother's knishes.

I'm starting, though, to feel a bit overwhelmed. The fact that I haven't got around to blogging for more than a week proves that out. I'm worried I'm going to drop something, or forget something important. I have a large number of clients right now, some just finishing up a project, some just starting, others ongoing, and am worried I'll forget to do something for one of them. As it is, I realized this week that I have more than $4000 in outstanding invoices that I haven't been paid for yet, and I hadn't done a thing yet to chase them down (did yesterday, and am told cheques are in the mail).

It's always hard to keep on top of varied freelance stuff, but with the job, I have even more stuff to worry about.

At least, so far, all the balls are still in the air and I'm still standing.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tethered to my email, or how I'm growing to love my blackberry

For many, many years now I've refused to buy a blackberry, or really any device beyond a cell phone that forced me to be on constant call. I spend enough time at my computer, since it's my home and work station, and enough time by my phone (ditto on the home and work front), so I didn't need to be alerted to every email all the time.

Of course, now that I'm out of the home office two days a week, I do need a better way to access my email, other than webmail. I have a lot of concerns about having my personal or other clients' stuff crossing my employer's server, what with all the concerns about lack of privacy and employee monitoring.

So I've done it. I've bought myself a blackberry. Of course, I chose the cute pink one. And yes, it vibrates every time I get an email. But it's also a decent cell phone, and I don't have to worry that I'm missing important stuff during my hour-long commute or when I play hookey from work (like this morning when I spent three hours at my sons' schools talking about Jewish New Year to their classes).

The big question is, though, will I become one of those people who checks her blackberry all the time, like at the dinner party, or at the movies, or during lunch meeting? I hate those people. God, I hope I don't become one!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

All my coworkers are Gen Y

When you work in an office, birthdays are celebrated. In my new office, it seems they usually pass a card for signatures, unless it's a "big" birthday, in which case there is more. This week, the office manager turned 30, so we celebrated with cake and champagne, and a bit of socializing.

There are only about 15 or 20 people (haven't met everyone yet!) who work here, and most of them were in the room for champagne. Talk came around to whose "big" birthday would be next, and eventually it came out how old just about everyone is. Turns out more than half the women are under 30. A few of the women and a few men are in their early to mid 30s. And one woman will turn 40 later this year.

Then there's me.

Granted, there are two senior people who work here who were out of town that day -- my boss, the President, who is in his 50s, and the VP of operations, who is 46. But man, it was a huge shock to find myself in the minority, and to find that I was the oldest person in the room.

That said, it didn't make me feel old, too much. More it was a surprise to be on this side of the dividing line. My previous office jobs in the past decade were government, where there are a LOT of baby boomers, so I was always on the young side of the line before.

I guess the good thing about being on the older people side is that it kind of reinforces the seniority I bring to my job. I want to be seen as a higher up, a senior staffer, so I guess being older helps with that impression.

But man, I need to learn more about Gen Y now.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Unemployment benefits for the self-employed

My apologies for silence the last ten days. I know both my followers must miss my posts. I do mean to do this more often, but starting the job, settling the kids into regular activities and clearing up other work has left me stressed, then ill (now getting over the cold/flu), and very time crunched. Still no excuse, hence the catch up this week.

Via Darren I read about a campaign promise in the current Canadian election by the ruling Conservative party to implement employment insurance for self-employed people. I guess the main point of it is to provide maternity/parental benefits to those of us not currently eligible because we work for ourselves.

Interesting thought. Yes, it would be great to get some benefits for maternity leave. But the maximum benefit you can get is about $415 a week, which is then taxed. I know for some people that's a significant sum of money over several months, but are those people self-employed? I had a friend go back to work because her benefits were running out, but once she paid for child care, the financial difference between working and not working was less than $500 a month.

I guess I was lucky, because I had the best of both worlds. With my first child, I had worked at a job part time that ended six months before the baby was born, but under the EI rules I qualified for maximum benefits. Which was nice, but frankly working part time I made more than the benefit amount, so I wound up refusing benefits most weeks (you have to report earnings and if you earn more than a certain amount, they don't pay you). The second baby for me I had no benefits, and yes, I started back a bit earlier than with the first, but it didn't make a lot of difference to me.

So are there a lot of self-employed people in their 20s and 30s who would benefit from EI? Am I being elitist to think every self-employed person would turn up their nose at $1200 a month, in return for paying in for at least six months before that?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My first week on the job

So far, so good.

I've had two days at my new office job and I'm still enjoying it. The people are nice, although I spent most of this week reading and learning about the organization. I like the two senior leaders with whom I'll spend most of my work time. They are frank, straightforward, and don't pull any punches, just like me. They appreciate honesty and are okay with being told what needs changing. I have my own office, with a window and a door and a u-shaped desk. Frankly, I'd kill for that kind of space in my home office. Today, my home office is feeling small and cramped. Well, it is small and cramped, but it never felt that way before.

I think the best part about it is, beyond the half-time aspect, that it's the kind of job I'd want. They look to me to be the expert, to take charge when I'm ready. I don't feel threatening or threatened when I discuss taking on duties or contact with suppliers. It's the senior staff role I knew I was qualified for, but which I thought because I'd been a consultant this long I couldn't achieve.

So while it's only been two days in the office, so far, so good. And I've read 2/3 of my book in just two days of commuting.

Monday, September 8, 2008

First day of work

Today is my first day of my new "part-time job." It's also my youngest child's first day of kindergarten. We're both a little nervous.

What if we don't like the boss/teacher?
What if the boss/teacher doesn't like us?
We don't know what our office/classroom will really look like. Where will we hang our coats? Where will we leave our purse/backpack?
Where will we eat lunch/snack?
Will we get along with the other staff/kids?
Will they like me?

We both know we can do the work, but it's the other stuff having us nervous.

At least my son has a new lunch bag for his first day. I have to use a plastic shopping bag.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Men in traditional female occupations

My kids went back to school yesterday, and once the parent party was over, I noticed how very few male teachers there are in my school. I think this is pretty common around North America, especially at elementary schools.

Is this a function of our paranoid society, where every man is seen as a possible abuser and women are seen as more nurturing? Is that why men teach at high school but not so much at elementary?

The sad part is I believe boys need male role models at the younger grades. I haven't done any scientific research, but is it possible boys feel a little alienated in the classroom because girls can identify with the teacher better?

Luckily for my kids, we have had some male teachers. Not in the classroom, but at daycare and after-school care. Even at the toddler stage, my boys had at least one male teacher -- very rare for ECE (early childhood education). They had two male teachers in the 3-5 year old group at daycare. And there was a male teacher at my older son's aftercare his first year (an aboriginal, disabled male to boot!), who was an amazing guy and super role model.

And today, I learned that my younger son's kindercare teacher (in my province, kindergarten is only 2 1/2 hours a day. The rest of the school day I pay for kindercare, then aftercare. It's all run at our school by the YMCA, and it's a great program, but it costs me.), with whom he'll spend more time than his female kindergarten teacher, is a man. And a Gen Y, manly looking guy to boot. I'm pretty pleased.

So why aren't men teaching young kids?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Chocolate indulgence

A while back a commenter on this blog asked if I wanted to be part of a word-of-mouth campaign for Dove chocolates. Basically, he was offering me free chocolates in return for me talking about them, so how could I resist. It took a while, but at the beginning of the summer they sent me "Dove Pleasure Kit".

It was quite a package they sent. I got a lovely shopping bag filled with goodies. There were four huge chocolate bars, dozens of 'purse packs' -- four bite-size chocolates in each, four packages of sharing chocolates, with about 15 bite-sized chocolates in each, along with a blank journal, a wine glass and a mini-pedicure kit. I assume it's all to reinforce the idea that Dove chocolate should be a woman's indulgence.

It's not a bad word-of-mouth campaign, because I've seen a bunch of other bloggers, all women in Toronto or Vancouver, blog about the chocolates. And I've mentioned them myself in my Facebook feed and my e-newsletter. It's been tough, though, having all this chocolate around my house and trying not to pig out on it. I've shared some with friends, but now I think I should pass more out so I don't have this much chocolate all to myself.

I like the taste of them, although I'm not a huge dark chocolate fan, but I like their milk chocolate and just adore their "dusk" flavour, a mix of milk and dark. And I like the wrappings on each chocolate, because they have really cute suggestions for indulging. Well, some are cute or inspiring, like "Stand up for yourself", "Order dessert first", or "Have a candlelight dinner." But some are kind of goofy, like “A push up bra isn’t cheating,” or ”Remember your first.”But it's fun, like little fortune cookies! Apparently, you can even order Dove chocolates with your own sayings printed inside. I bet these would be great wedding favours.

Anyhow, I recommend trying them, if not for the taste then at least for the amusement factor. And now I've spread the word good and proper, so hopefully someone else will think me influential enough to send me more free stuff!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Invading my space

It's the last week of summer holidays, although judging by all the rain today it's hard to tell what season we're in. Next week the kids go back to school full time and hopefully my husband will get back to his regular working hours (although having had most of the month off with someone else covering all his work, I worry he won't go back or will try to go back for just some of it. This worries me in part because we do need his income, and he has no plan to do anything else. Also because when he's not at work, he's at home, in my space.), and it can't come fast enough for me.

I know I'm about to start a part time job, with two days at an office outside of home, but the other days I want my house back. All summer I've wanted my house back. This isn't just a housewife complaining that her family is underfoot, although that's part of it. But this is my workplace, and I'm sick of my family taking it away from me.

I don't have a real office in our house. I have a nook, kinda carved out with a bookcase for a bit of privacy, but basically my workspace is in the playroom. So everyone is always in here when they're home. When I'm home alone, it's a lovely spot to work. It's central so I don't feel jammed into the basement, I have a huge window right at my desk so I can watch the birds on the backyard feeders. And it's bright and cheery.

But when someone else is home, I feel invaded, no matter how quiet they are. And this summer, between half-day camps, days off and my husband being home this whole month, I have felt very invaded. It's not just that I can't concentrate on work. If that were the only issue I'd unplug my laptop, grab my cordless phone and go to my bedroom where I can shut the door and have some quiet. Thank goodness for wireless internet.

But it's more than that. I see the whole house as my office, not just my workspace, so when someone else is here, it's a loss of privacy. I know they're my family and they live here too, but I just feel, well, invaded. I can't wait until we settle back down into a regular routine next week.

Yeah, back to school!!!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Jurassic Park and other kiddie films

My sons are still pretty young, but my older one is entering the second grade and while I don't like to expose him to too many violent movies, his buddies all seem to be seeing films like Indiana Jones, Star Wars and other stuff that I think is too violent. Am I a big prude because I want to keep the gory and war-ry stuff away from my little guys?

This issue comes up for us now because of Jurassic Park, the 1993 classic (can it be a classic when it's only 15 years old?). We just got back from a great family holiday where we drove to Dinosaur Provincial Park. The boys are now all over anything dinosaur related, so I thought I'd go rent them the film that brought Dinosaurs to life for me, Jurassic Park. But it's rated PG, and I remember being pretty scared of some of the chase and eating scenes, and I was 25 when it came out. So do I let my kids see it?

On the one hand, I want to be the overprotective mom and shield them from this kind of thing. On the other hand, movies like this and ET and Star Wars are a big part of pop culture, and I don't want my kids to be left out if everyone else they hang out with has been exposed to those kinds of things. Imagine being the only kid in the 80s who didn't get the joke when someone said "No Coke, Pepsi!"

If these kinds of pop images form a generation and inform our modern culture, where do you draw the line between keeping your kid up to date and being overprotective?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Old-fashioned driving vacation

When I was a kid, my family took a lot of car trips. We lived in the middle of the country on the prairies, so driving anywhere meant long periods in the car. I don't remember the car parts as much as I remember where we went to, but I also don't remember the car parts as being tortuous.

Well, now I'm the parent and my family is setting off tomorrow for an eight day trip, with basically four full days of driving involved. I am anti-DVD in the car, but I have loaded up the ipods with lots of audio books, have car games ready, surprise snacks, yadda yadda. As the parent, at least at this point in the holiday, all I can focus on is the car part.

But I think the kids will really love our destination -- Dinosaur Provincial Park. And yes, we'll camp there, but we've got hotels planned for the first two days of driving and a two-day stop at a friend's house on the way back. I'm sure it will be fine. Just like when I was a kid.

I hope.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Old enough to see it come back into style

Now that I've got a new job on the horizon, I need to start shopping. I don't have an "office" wardrobe, but then again I don't have much of a budget for clothes shopping. And besides, I'm not a standard size 6, so I rarely find much I like. Frankly, most of the time I see clothes better made for the runway or the high school hallway than I do for a woman of my age or figure.

Anyhow, today I was walking past a consignment boutique that had a great sale on, so I stopped in to see if there was anything I like in my size. I love consignment stores. Everything is affordable, usually in good quality (above the Value Village stuff for sure!), and it's not all this season's stuff, which is good for someone who doesn't like this season's fashions very much at all.

Anyhow, as I perused the racks today, I couldn't believe some of the clothes. There were velour tops, and Flashdance style skirts. There were a lot of things I recognized from my teenage years. I can't believe that stuff is back in fashion.

I'm reminded of my mother talking about sixties fashions coming back into style in the late 80s, when tie dye and mini skirts got chic again, and I remember rolling my eyes about how my mother just didn't understand fashion. She never wanted to discard clothes, because she said they'd come back into style. And she was right, sort of.

But now I'm the mother, and I'm seeing it coming back around to me now. Now I know I'm middle aged.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I said yes

I called the association that offered me the part time job and yesterday I accepted their offer. We agreed that I would start the second week of September (once my littlest guy starts kindergarten), and that we'd work out the details between now and then.

I'm pretty excited about the possibilities, but now have to start making lists of things I need to do before I jump in. First, I need to sort out a new cell phone. Mine is very old, at least three years, and doesn't get email. I will definitely need email, especially for the 45 minute commute in each direction. And I don't want to use webmail at the office, because I've heard a lot of horror stories about companies having the right to read all my email if I access it over their servers, even if it's an outside account. And I need to decide which two days I'll give up to office life. And I need new clothes. I don't have the wardrobe for a job, even at two days a week. Do you think I can wear jeans at least once a week?

This is a big step, but hopefully it's the right one, and a right one in the right direction to offering me more of the security I'm missing as a freelancer, without giving up the freedom and the opportunities I love as a freelancer.

When I called the VP to say I'd take the offer, he was very, very happy, and made me feel welcomed right away. And the office manager emailed the same day too to start talking about what I'll need for office space, admin help, etc. Those things really helped make me feel I'd made the right choice.

The other clincher was my kids. My older son, the seven year old, spent last night at a sleepover, something he only recently felt old enough to do. And my younger guy, now out of daycare as of last week, spent his first day at camp, at the same program that runs after-school care at his soon-to-be school, and when I picked him up, he seemed older, more mature. I took both those facts as signs my kids are moving on, and this is therefore the right time for this kind of change.

I guess 40 really is a watershed year for me, and my whole family.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The downside of taking this job

I have a few more days to consider this job offer, and while there are a lot of pluses, there are also negatives, and I'd like to consider them.

Devoting half my work week, plus commuting time, to the job, might be pretty consuming. I'm sure I'll still be able to do other work, but will I still have time to look for other work? Will I be able to network, go for coffees, go to events? Those are usually pretty useful in the long run to get me more business, and if I'm not doing them, will my incoming work dry up? It would be pretty easy to let a half time job fill my whole week, what with the whole home and family thing on top of it.

And what about the whole home and family thing? Will I have to shop for groceries on Saturday afternoon with all the other working moms? Will I have to do laundry in the evenings? Will I be exhausted every night racing home on the bus to make dinner? Will I have any time left to exercise?

I know it sounds like I'm being lazy, giving up my days at home and having to enter the work world, and it does seem a lot like that. Hopefully with only two days a week in their offices, I'll be able to overcome it.

My other worries are about reentering the office life. It's been about three years since I worked in an office. All the politics, the other people. It's easy to be businesslike and nice when you only have the odd meeting, but when it's all day, that's a lot tougher. And it's hard to go back and forth from the home office to the office office. And then there's the wardrobe. I don't have the clothes for it, even two days a week. And I hate shopping.

And then there's the commute. Their office is clear across town, which I'm pretty sure is two transfers from home, for about 45 minutes each way. I could possibly bike, but I know when it's cold and raining, I don't think so.

On the bright side, I'd need to access my emails on the go, so it's an excuse to buy a new cell phone.

If this is the answer to my worries, why am I still worried?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A job offer -- part time

Back in April I wrote about having lunch with a couple senior women in my field who suggested I try to find a part time job. They said it was a good way to gain the stability I'm seeking without giving up my freelance freedoms altogether. They also both thought I should find an employer who had been looking for someone less experienced than me, but full time, and convince them to hire me part time for the same money.

The day after my second of those lunches, the woman I'd met ran into someone in exactly that position. His association had been trying to hire someone full time, because consultants weren't working for them -- they wanted someone in house. But after looking they were having trouble finding anyone with enough experience and hadn't hired. She recommended me.

I heard from this association the next day, asking if I was interested. I told the guy I might be, but then didn't hear again. Then last month, I got an email from his colleague asking again was I interested. I said I was. We arranged a phone call to explore how it might work and whether there was a fit. Then a couple weeks went by with no word. Then last week they asked to meet me to discuss it more.

Now, at this point my freelancing is going pretty well. Turns out I had a pretty good year financially after all, and with the new informal partnership going well, I'm feeling a bit more secure about the near future. But this option still intrigues me.

And today they made me an offer. The money is not bad, certainly better than half of a full time job. Their offices are not terribly close, and it would be a 45 minute commute on the bus or bike each way, but they're only asking me to do two days a week in their office, with some additional time at home for them. Their area of business, while not sexy or exciting, interests me and touches on a lot of hot political topics that I like. I'd still be able to take freelance work, I'd just need to look for less of it. And they're telling me they'll be plenty flexible about it all.

So did I find my magic bullet, a way to survive the next 25 years of work? Keep the stability in part time work, keep the freelance in the rest?

I don't know. I've got a lot to consider here. I'll post more later this week while I hash out more details in my head. Opinions?

Monday, July 28, 2008

I am a triathlete!

I did it. Yesterday, I completed a triathlon. At 40. I am a 40-year-old triathlete. I just keep repeating this to tell myself it's real.

Yes, I'm proud of myself and maybe a bit too much, but heck, I did it.

And it was hard. First of all, it rained. First rain this town has seen in nearly five weeks, and just for a few hours, but the hours I was racing. I had to be there at 6 am, which meant I took our family's only car up there, so my hubby and the kids couldn't come watch.

I had to lay out all my stuff in the rain. Good thing I brought a garbage bag. But it was cold, and I had to stand around for two hours after they closed the transition area (where the bikes and clothes go) until my swim start time (those who would be quickest started first). But then, at last, I put on my bathing cap, was marked all over with my race number, and they told me to get into the pool.

My swim went very well. I felt strong and consistent, and even passed a few people, but didn't really have problems with people passing because the lanes were pretty wide. I did my last lap and got out of the pool and walked quickly out of the pool toward the transition area, and then I saw them. My husband and the boys were at the pool exit cheering me on. I nearly cried I was so happy to see them.

I raced to my bike and began doing my clothing change, which went fine and no one saw me slip off my bathing suit under my towel. And I was pretty quick. Onto my bike and off I went, out of transition, up the hill onto the biking route. It was four laps on the blocked-off road. The way there was pretty much uphill the entire way, and the first lap I was going pretty slowly, because I was darn tired. But the way back was easier and more downhill, which gave me more strength for the next uphill. By the end of the second lap I felt faster and stronger and I think that's the point when I knew I'd finish this thing. Then it started to pour. Up until then the rain had either stopped or trickled to nothing. But during my third and most of my fourth lap, it poured. Yet I soldiered on, until I got to the end of my fourth lap and headed back down the hill to the transition area again.

I parked my bike and helmet, grabbed my hat and long sleeve shirt (I was soaked and cold by then) and headed back uphill for the run. Well, I didn't quite run yet. My legs were very, very sore. And while I'd practiced this, and knew it would be tough to get running (it was the same road, still uphill, just over to the side of the bikes), I didn't know it would be so tough. But my kids were cheering so I ran past them and tried to keep running. But I couldn't. My breathing was okay and my energy was okay but my legs hurt. So I walked. I kept trying to run uphill, and managed a minute here and there, but for more than 10 minutes into the running part, I couldn't make my legs work. Then finally they did. So I ran. And I ran as well as I could. I tried to go faster, especially at the end, but as much as I could soldier on and keep running, I just couldn't make my legs go any faster. But the finish line was in sight, and I pushed on, until I came around the last corner, heard my kids call out and I crossed the finish line to hugs from my sons.

And now, I am a triathlete. I didn't break any records. I finished 133th of 146 women, but I wasn't last, which was my goal. And I finished in under two hours, which I was really hoping to do -- 1:54:16. It's not earth shattering, but it's not embarrassing either. And my favourite number is 18:26. That's my swim time, including the time it took me to get out of the pool, walk the length of it out the other end to the exit and across the timing mat. And that time is a good minute or two less than I had ever done in training.

But I'm pretty sure that was my one and only tri. I would swim again, and bike again, and swim and bike again, but the run was too hard for me, and frankly, I just don't enjoy running enough to do that all again. I'll probably keep up a weekly run with my clinic group, but to do the three again, I don't think so.

There, cross that one off my list. I'm 40 and I completed a triathlon.

Now what will I do for 50?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Triathlon worries

Only four days to go now until my triathlon, and the real fear is setting in now.

Up until this week, I had been worried about the big things -- could I get trained enough, would I be able to do this, how hilly is the course, etc. But now it's the details that scare me.

I learned this week that I have to wear a bathing cap during the swim. I have never worn one ever before. I bought a cheap one so I could try it on and practice, although since the race is this weekend, I really only have one swim scheduled during which I can practice. So I've tried it in the shower, and I hate it. It feels really tight, hurts my hair, and it feels really, really weird not to feel water in my hair. Hopefully the one they give me, with my number marked on it, is better than this cheapie one.

I also learned that I'll have a timing chip velcroed to my ankle. Another weird feeling I'm not used to. I'm sure neither one of these things is a big deal in the long run, but the swim was supposed to be my comfort zone -- it's the easiest of the three for me, and now I feel these things will make me feel ill-at-ease in the water.

The other big worry is the weather. Up until today, I had seen weather reports for Sunday saying it would be really, really hot. But today the reports say the really hot weather is actually three or four days back, so Sunday now has a 30-60 % chance of rain, with highs only just at 19-20 degrees. It's hardly cold, and I know I can bike and run in the rain, and have done before, but I planned my wardrobe based on hot weather, so now I'm having second thoughts.

Another concern is that the transition area, where I put my bike and clothes etc -- oh, it's outside. I have to plan to have my clothes in a waterproof bag now if it'll be raining -- closes at 7 am, so from that time until my swim start time, which is likely to be about 8:30ish, I have to stand around in my bathing suit. Worries of discomfort and cold come back to me now here again too.

I think if this weren't the first triathlon I'd ever been in, or even if I'd been smart and gone to watch one before this, I might be calmer about these details, but well, it is my first, so the little things are troubling.

On a brighter note, I am less scared about my ability to do this. I know I won't be fast, but I also know I can do this in less than 2 1/2 hours, maybe even less than 2, although not likely. I might be tired biking, and may even go really slowly up the hills, but I can do it. I've trained on my bike a lot, and hills around town that used to frighten me, that used to get me off the bike and walking up them, I can do now. And the run, the worst of the three sports for me, well, worse comes to worse and I walk parts of it because I'm tired. I keep going back to a 5K run I did in early June, where I was exhausted after a 2 hour bike ride the day before, my legs were killing, and when I did the 5K I felt like I walked more than I ran, but I finished that in 35 minutes. So if I could do it then, I can do it in the tri.

Four days to go, if I can survive the little things. Wish me luck!

Friday, July 18, 2008

How much do you make?

A couple workplace-related blogs I follow have had posts this week about salary secrecy -- the compulsion to hide your annual salary from everyone. I have always thought a reluctance to discuss money was a downfall of our society. What's the big secret?

Take housing prices as a comparison. MLS listings are public, as are annual assessment records, so I can easily look up how much anyone's house costs. That's a bigger indicator of wealth than salary, at least in my hometown. And if you know what someone does for a living, you can guess what what kind of money they might make in many cases. So what's the big deal?

I know, poverty is seen as degrading, and being overly wealthy is seen as elitist. But when you work in a company where you know how high up the corporate ladder you rank, why is it a big deal to know how much more or less the next gal earns?

I began my career working for the federal government, a unionized e where every job has a classification, and every classification has a salary range. So I knew how much every single person in my workplace earned. Then I moved to the private sector, where I wasn't allowed to share my salary with anyone, and no one shared with me. And I just didn't get it. It always seemed like a silly game to me -- hide your income from your cubicle neighbours.

As a freelancer, I have been open about my rates, and find that others are just as open. Asking around helped me set the right number for myself. I used to charge too little, until I started asking around, and then brought up my rates when I found others at the same level were charging more. In fact, I learned last month that I'm charging far too little for media training sessions, because I asked a couple other freelancers, so the next one I do will cost the client a more market-reasonable rate.

I'm not saying I run around telling everyone I meet what my annual income is, but I'm also not hiding it. If someone asked me directly how much I earned last year, I'd tell them. Although with all the deductions, and the whole incorporated business thing, I'm not sure I have a direct answer. I know how much the corporation made, and I know what I reported as net income on my taxes, but it's never as simple for someone like me to say how much we earn as for a salaried employee. But I've certainly got nothing to hide.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Picking up trash earns trip to space?

When I was a kid in the 70s, we all thought that by the time we were grownups, we'd be jetting off to the moon for holidays. Ah, the George Jetson inspired dreams of the future.

Well, eight years into this new millennium, I'm not going to space any time soon, although my seven year old is at a science camp this week and who knows, it might spark the bug that leads him to the space program. Anyhow, I was intrigued by this news item I just saw, Air hostess picks up chocolate bar, wins space trip.

Not that it really has anything to do with my musings on being 40 and work life, but this Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory dream come true for this woman is pretty cool.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Me and J-Lo

I read in the news today that Jennifer Lopez is training for a triathlon, just like me.

With only 12 days to go, it's nice to be in good company.

I'm trying to taper my training this week, but having to bike my kid to camp every morning, since our car died and we haven't decided yet what to do to replace it, is messing with that. Still, I'm feeling more ready as the days go by, but scared too.

I guess it gets to a point where you're either trained or you're not, and no more training can make the difference. 12 days and counting!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wasting time at work, Free Slurpee Day

I am doing some promotion for a client that wants to give away money, and in addition to promoting them via media relations, I did some social media promotion too. I messaged everyone relevant on my Facebook and LinkedIn contact lists, and got some bloggers to post it. Before I tell the rest of my tale, the "it," which by the way is pretty Vancouver-area-specific, is:

I'm helping Metropolis at Metrotown give away money. They have a community fund which has raised $200,000 in the past couple years -- the money is from their Metropolis Express, the little ride-on train that runs around the main floor of the mall, and they've given grants to 20 non-profits in Burnaby. But the fund has grown big enough that they want to expand the region to which they'll give grants.

To that end, I'm trying to spread the word to non-profits in New Westminster or East Vancouver that they can apply for money from the community fund. All the rules and application forms are available here.

Anyhow, one of my contacts on LinkedIn wrote that she had forwarded my message to a contact at a relevant charity, but that my message sent her to LinkedIn where she updated her profile, looked around a bit, and other time wasters. And then she asked, probably jokingly, if I had any more stuff she could do to avoid working.

We all spend time reading blogs, newspapers, surfing, etc., which feels like work, but is really not getting any client-related stuff accomplished. So I have another one for my buddy and everyone else, but one that necessitates leaving your desk on Friday.

This Friday in Canada (and I think the US too) is Free Slurpee Day. If you don't know what a Slurpee is, imagine all the ice and sugar you can drink -– although I think the free ones are small. Oh, and Friday is also the day that the iPhone comes to town, but with the yucky pricing plans, I'm more excited about the Slurpees.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Professional curiosity

There's a PR agency in my town, one I know of but have never really been close to, and something is happening at their business. What, exactly, I don't know, but boy am I curious!

Last week, a job ad came around from my professional association. A new agency was looking for staff, and it was named after one of the principals in the PR agency I mentioned above. Not only that, but the new agency seemed to have many of the same big-name clients as the previous agency. Really, it seems like maybe this principal left her old agency and started out on her own, taking all her clients with her.

This is pretty juicy stuff, and I'm very, very curious about what happened. Not that it affects me directly. I don't really compete with them for clients, and I am not really impacted if she left or whatever. But I want to know.

I emailed a few freelance colleagues to see if they knew what was up, but no one knew anything. So this morning I decided to take my curiosity a step further, and I emailed the one person I do know somewhat well at the previous agency and asked him for the dirt.

Did I go too far? In elementary school, I remember being really embarrassed when my teacher read a story to the class called "Curious Carla." Did I just make the story come true and embarrass myself just by asking for the gossip?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Work-life balance on summer holidays

When I had babies, everyone talked about child care, daycare, babysitters, etc. But no one ever warned me about summer vacation. I always thought that once my kid started school, my child care woes would ease. Ha! Summers are the hardest time to work around, because there is no continuity.

OK, I could stick my kid in a daycare/regular daycamp situation where he goes to the same place every day, but what fun is that for a child who is supposed to be enjoying time off from a regular schedule? No, like most moms in my hoity-toity neighborhood (where being a working mom is very far from the norm!), my kid gets to go to camps. Day camps. So each week is a new adventure. This week is baseball camp, then soccer camp, then engineering camp (I know it's geeky but he likes science and building stuff!), then two weeks of outdoors camp. Each camp starts and ends at a different time, and in a different location. It's quite the juggling act to get him to the right places. And some camps are only half days, so then I have to deal with playdates, or having him in the house while I try to work. It's a hassle.

That all said, his summer holidays usually work out to a of slower work for me, so I can usually manage the juggle. Because I'm a freelancer and make my own schedule. If ever I did take a full time job, this could never happen. But for now, it's actually kind of nice. I start working a bit later and finish a bit earlier to accommodate camp times. I use my cell phone more in the summers since I spend more time away from my desk. But I still haven't broken down and gotten a blackberry.

Penelope Trunk has written today about how having a blackberry gives her more work-life balance, since she can multi-task, even at her son's soccer games.

Without a Blackberry, you always had to choose one or the other. Work and life were always competing for large chunks of time in the day. But with the Blackberry, you can have a blended life where work life and personal life complement each other. What I mean is that the Blackberry makes it so you can always do work but also always do your personal life, so you choose which one has priority, minute to minute.

Yeah, right. To hear her tell it, by constantly checking her email she has more time with her personal life. I don't think so, at least not for me. When I tune out work, I am focused on my family and much more relaxed. I did nary a stitch of work while on my five-day break last week, and I felt much more relaxed than usual when I would have taken work with me.

Summer should be easier, even for a freelancer. Viva la day camp, viva la summer!

Monday, June 30, 2008

The death of personal blogging -- more than just an excuse for my lack of posts!

I know it's been more than a week since I posted anything. Truth be told I don't have that many people reading this, so I doubt anyone noticed, but once you start something, you feel obliged to keep it up. It's like my inner monologue and I feel guilty when I neglect it.

My excuses are the usual -- I was ill for more than a week, my kid's schedule was overwhelming as he finished school for the year, then started summer camps, and plus my family took five days away as a short holiday. But hey, none of them prevented me from blogging, so much as prevented me from thinking about blogging.

Which is why this article in the Tyee was so interesting. It's called the Death of Pleasure Blogging, and the author argues that blogging for the heck of it is so five minutes ago. Business and media blogging is growing, but pleasure blogging is becoming too much work. Microblogging --- updating your status in Facebook or Twitter or the like -- is easier.

The move from big blogs to smaller ones says a lot about our cultural attention span. One or two lines of text are about as much writing as we can handle -- either creating or consuming it. Which begs the question, why did I write a bloated 750-word blog exposé? I could have just Twittered it in a line or two.

I've yet to embrace Twitter, but I admit to updating my Facebook status more regularly than I do this blog. But in my defense, I use Facebook for my side business. So it's not really personal blogging, is it? ;-)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gen Xers rule summer movies

Via the Globe and Mail's movies columnist Johanna Scheller I read about how mid-lifers like myself are dominating the movies this summer.

Think of all the 40-somethings in Sex and the City, Robert Downey Jr (46) in Ironman, Ed Norton (38) in the Hulk, or Adam Sandler (42) in that Zohan flop. There must be the usual summer teen flicks, but if they're out there, I haven't heard of them yet.

Schneller calls it "the summer of 42- age 42, that is. Or 43, or 53." And I agree, I see many men and women on screen now who are actually my age. But Schneller, who I assume from her photo is a Boomer, naturally credits all this to her generation, not mine.
It must be acknowledged that this spurt of midlife movies could be simply the last roar of that terrible beast, the baby-boomer ego - the cinematic equivalent of a perimenopausal woman firing off her extra eggs before her womb goes dark. Never before has a generation held so fiercely to the belief that it's the only one that matters; some of summer's films make hay with that belief.

And yes, that does make sense, but isn't ironic that most of the film stars she cites are in their late 30s/early 40s, and therefore not of the baby boomer variety but rather the Gen X era. Isn't it fun that now that boomers are looking for their youth, but not wanting to look too far (like into the eyes of a 20-something), they look to our generation. No doubt all those 60-somethings sitting in dark movie theatres are living vicariously through the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker -- a Gen Xer if ever there was one (come on, remember Square Pegs!)

After all those years of us seeing mostly them in our pop culture, they are finally looking at us. Maybe it is the summer of 40 -- sure makes it easier for me to have joined the fourth decade!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Generational quiz -- what is your media use?

I was reading some older columns from one of my favourite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, and came across this terrific quiz she posted.

She hypothesizes that what really labels us into a generation is not so much the year of our birth but rather our experience with digital media. I took her quiz and came out square in the middle of Gen X, so I think she may have a real point.

Go ahead and try it. Did it work for you?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Goofing off is good for your workday

According to this brief article in the Globe and Mail, letting workers take time to answer personal emails, check Facebook and surf the web is good for productivity and morale.

If bosses actively encouraged employees to take one 10 minute e-break in the working day, their overall productivity levels would increase.

One 10 minute break? Oh yeah, cuz we'd only ever check our personal stuff once a day, right?!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Global warming is messing up my training

It's been a pretty cold and rainy spring here in Vancouver. We had about five days of heat and sunshine on the May long weekend, then back to cold and rain. I actually wore my fall boots and raincoat yesterday. So imagine how hard it's been to get me motivated and outside for triathlon training?!

I don't like biking in the rain. I freely admit that I am a bit of a whoos when it comes to that. I love to bike in the sunshine, when it's pretty hot and the speed of the bike creates a lovely wind to cool me off. But getting wet while biking is just miserable. It's bad enough that in this city to commute anywhere on my bike involves plenty of uphill slogging, but to do that in the rain? No thank you.

OK, I gave in on the weekend and did a training run in the rain. And last night I went out to running clinic even though it had been pouring all day. But the running wasn't a hardship. Somehow, it miraculously stopped raining for the one hour of my clinic. The man who runs the store we run from, he has some kind of magic going on, because it never rains from 6-7 pm on a Monday when clinic is on. I am now a true believer, because the rain stopped at 5:45 and started again as I was heading home.

Now I have this fear that the day of my actual triathlon race (July 27, btw) it will pour. Stupid global warming!

Monday, June 9, 2008

How's businesss?

Whenever I see friends or acquaintances at social occasions, I'm usually asked "How's business?", and I never quite know how to answer.

On the one hand, the question is kind of like "How are you?", a question we ask each other every day without really caring about the answer, so the correct response is "fine," whether you are or not. So in this case, the answer to "How's business?" is "great" or "fine." But is that the right thing to do?

When I was in my 20s and working freelance or on contract, I always said business was great, because you don't want anyone to think you're not doing well. At that age, one does not ever admit shortcomings. Life is perfect, just like in the magazines and in movies, and if you're unhappy/alone/out of work/etc., you'd never admit it.

In my 30s, as I got more experienced and more mature, I began to tell people that things were less than perfect. Some admissions are easy -- Raising babies is hard and I'm tired, I can't afford the home I want, I'm out of shape -- these are common social complaints that actually can bond you with others in the same situation. You have a reason for parts of your life not being perfect -- you're 30-something with kids.

But with business, it still took a while for me to admit when business wasn't great, but lately I've started to come up with better answers. Like "I'm having a slow quarter", or "I could be busier", or "I'm looking for some new projects now." I find this way the people I network with, whether business or personal, will know that I'm open to new challenges. Still, it is admitting a failing on my part, and it takes a certain ego to do that, something I only have on odd days of the week.

It can also come off as whining, I guess. I'll have to think about this one some more. How's your business going?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

How old do you think I am?

After a killer work week, my hubby and I were thrilled to get a sitter Friday night to go to an actual party -- not just a gathering of parents and kids, but all grownups, music, drinking, and staying out late.

It was a fabulous night out, and I think we earned some respect from our 13-year-old sitter when we stayed out past 11. I think she thinks we're old fuddy duddies because we are almost always home before 10. Well, she's right, but Friday night we actually had to pry ourselves away from the party to get back at a decent hour for a 13-year-old.

At the party, I got chatting with a lovely young couple -- two beautiful 20-something boys who were lots of fun. At one point I made a comment about something from the 70s, when they both said they weren't alive back then. So I laughed and said, oh, I guess I just dated myself. And they said, no way were you alive back then. So for fun, I said, "OK, then tell me how old do you think I am?" They both together said "30." Me, 30?!

Now that's a lovely compliment, and when I told them my real age both refused to believe me, which was a bigger compliment.

But my favourite part came the next day when I realized that neither of them got the joke when I said "How old do you think I am?" Because that is a line from a commercial that predates them. I'm sure everyone my age remembers the old Oil of Olay commercial that asks "How old do you think I am?" (sorry, tried but failed to find a clip on youtube to link to that). But I'm pretty sure that was an early 80s ad, so these 25-year-olds wouldn't know I was trying to drop a pop culture reference.

Another example of the generation gap, but this one wrapped up in a huge compliment for me.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Why am I driving on bike to work week?

One of the best things about not having a downtown, 9-to-5 job, has to be the lack of a commute. In my city, everyone pours from the burbs to the city centre every morning, and rush hour runs straight through from 7 am to 7 pm every single workday. Ah, but in my workplace, rush hour ends when the boys leave for school, and the only obstacle on my commute from the kettle in the kitchen to my desk at the other end of the house is tripping over laundry or the cat.
My poor husband, drives downtown to work most days, and complains daily about the traffic. And don't I feel smug most days.

Ah, but not this week. This week I am still working on a very big project in another municipality in my region, one that requires me to go over a bridge for ever meeting. Transit on their side of the water isn't very good, and many meetings have been early morning or evenings, so I've had to drive. A lot. Today I left home at 8:30 am for a 9:30 am meeting, and just got in now at noon (ok). I'm spending more time in my vehicle this week than I usually spend in months. And this week just happens to be Bike to Work Week.

You know that I'm training for a triathlon, so biking to work would be ideal for me. And you know I've tried to squeeze in workouts whenever I can. But biking to these meetings would require a good 90 minutes each way, and did I mention that once over the bridge it's all uphill? Anyhow, it's just not doable for me. So I have been unable to bike to work at all this week. Shame on me.

At least my family is evening out the carbon emissions, because my husband has biked to his work all week.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Oh, the stress, or Why can't I turn off my brain

Yesterday was one of those freelancer days when I wish I had a normal nine-to-five job. My day began with a 45 minute drive at 7:30 am, a morning chock full of meetings, back to the home office at lunch, work for five hours straight, stop for dinner, rush kid to coach his t-ball game for an hour (at which said kid did not show best sportsmanship!), then back into car for another 45 minute drive to another meeting. All told, I basically worked from 7:30 am to 10 pm.

Then I was finally home, but my brain couldn't figure out that it was time to chill out and stop thinking. And therefore I couldn't sleep. I was up until well past 1:30 am, which I never, ever do, then up again at 5 unable to sleep again. I kept thinking about work stuff, about kid stuff, about things I need to do around the house. I just couldn't shut my brain off after using it so much the whole day.

So today I am sleep-deprived and in a pissy mood, and not getting a lot of worthwhile work done.

Remind me again why I like freelancing?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Some blogs I like

I've been so busy with work this past week that I haven't blogged. In case anyone is still checking to see if I write anything, I thought I'd better get something up here quick. I don't know how other bloggers do it. I'm overwhelmed right now just keeping up with work comitments, trying to remember what my kids look like, and catch up with my husband in the hour of the evening between getting home from a work thing and passing out in bed from exhaustion! I guess I'll just have to fine time on the weekend for blog entries.

In the meantime, I thought I'd quickly write this and share a few blogs I've found in recent months that I really enjoy. All three of these ladies blog about career and generational stuff:

Shifting Careers: Marci Alboher writes a regular column in the dead tree edition of the New York Times, and has this super blog where she goes into detail about topics that interest her, mainly about career stuff, changing careers, and what she calls "slash" careers -- where you have more than one profession, like lawyer/writer/pastry chef.

Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist: Penelope is one of my all-time favourite bloggers. She puts her heart, sole, and toenails into her columns -- and they are columns, not just short blog entries. She's witty, funny, crass, insightful, and very entertaining. She has a huge following, which is a good thing because she seems to tick off her readers a lot, a sign of contraversy and wit! And not that I'm on Twitter, but she's posted her tweets on her blog and they are the best, funniest use of Twitter I've ever seen.

Generation Xpert Suzanne Kart belongs to Generation X, and she has a lot of smart, practical and funny insight into the generation gaps.



Friday, May 16, 2008

Is instability stable for my business?

I was bemoaning the up and down nature of my freelance business yesterday, when my husband said something interesting. He said, "The instability is your stability." Let's think about that.

It's true that every freelance business has busy times and not so busy times. Well, it has been certainly true for me over the last decade. I can't really plan what my workload will be very far in advance, because just when I think I know what's on my plate, something gets canceled, or moved ahead or pushed back, or something else drops in my lap that I couldn't turn down. I think it's part of my charm, and part of my success, that I take on last minute work whenever possible. But it's also to my detriment that every slow period gets me very bummed out.

Yet if I look back on my total billings for the past five years (this is my judgment period, because in the years before that I worked less cuz I was having babies), they've been pretty steady year over year, and in a good way. Even this year, when things were scary slow for, I thought, two or three months, I'm on track to do as well as I did last year. And even my month-over-month billings haven't varied too much this year.

So is my husband right? The one constant in my work life is that it's inconsistent, that I go through peaks and valleys, that these ups and downs make me alternatively depressed or stressed? I guess so. Now the big question, is that a stability I can live with?

Hmmmm. Gotta think about that one. Although I guess in truth, that's what this blog is all about, thinking about whether I can stand another 25 years of instability as the basis of my work life, in return for the freedom freelancing allows. I don't know the answer today, but I'm still young, I'll keep trying to figure it out.

Happy long weekend!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Boring meeting game

Via FreelanceSwitch, I found a great game to play in boring meetings. Since I've just taken on a new project that involves a lot of meetings, I've decided to learn the rules but adapt them (tongue in cheek) to my meeting experience:

Game: Phrases that should have stayed behind in the 80s.

Stuck in a meeting for hours? Finding staying awake and alert a problem?
Keep alert by playing: ‘spot the meeting cliché’

How to score:

Score two points for a meeting attendee for each phrase uttered from the list below, double points if two phrases are used in the same sentence.

• On the same page
• Take offline
• Think outside the box
• Talk me through it
• Blue sky
• Best practice
• Singing from the same songsheet
• Paradigm
• Moving the goalposts
• At the end of the day
• Comfort zone
• Win-win situation
• Rock the boat
• Core competency
• Action item
• Touch base
• Synergy

Two extra points allocated for any or all of the following: Ponytails on men, crumpled linen jackets, bow ties, PowerPoint presentations including graphs, flip charts, socks in colours other than standard grey, black or navy, more than 4 x blackberrys on the table at any one time.

2 – 8 points: generally allowable, though cliché sources should be treated with disdain

8 - 12 points: approaching a high level of bullshit and waffle. Put your head in your hands whenever he/she talks.

12+ points: cliché alert. Have the speaker run for Head of State, CEO of a global corporate or establish an internet start-up company.

Now I'm actually looking forward to my meeting later this afternoon just to play!

Monday, May 12, 2008

I don't need to know everything, or Why I don't understand the holes the City is digging in my road

My street is under construction, and has been for two weeks running. The City has been systematically making its way from one side of my block to the other, digging up half the road lengthwise. They tell me they are installing new sewers, which I basically understand. I've seen the holes they dug, I've seen the big cement cylinders and the smaller blue cylinders that they put into the big holes they dig. But now they're on their second pass, and this I don't get. They are digging back up the parts they dug last week, which they had covered with gravel (oh the number of dump trucks I've seen!). The workers tell me they now have to reconnect the houses on the other side of my street up to the new sewers.

Now I don't understand all this. I don't know why they didn't just do the connecting the first time they dug, instead of covering up and digging again. And I don't really know what it means to connect a home to a new sewer. I assume it has something to do with pipes into or out of the house, but I don't really get all that.

Anyhow, I was thinking tonite that I don't really care to understand it. After all, it's the homes across the street they're reconnecting, not my home. And while my neighbor across the way was out having long chats with the workmen, I don't really care to know the details. I am, by nature, a very curious person, but I've realized that I am content not knowing every detail about everything.

And this is also my attitude to technology, I've decided. I do not need to be an early adopter of the latest tech toys or the new Web star. I can wait to buy an iPhone (if they ever get to Canada). I didn't have an MP3 player until a few years ago. I only got onto Facebook last year. And I have no interest in Twitter, even though a social media expert I heard speak tonite says it is the next big thing.

I like to know the basics. I understand what Twitter is and how it's being used, but I don't need to know every detail. I understand that the work on my street is about installing new sewers, but I don't need to know exactly what's in the holes they dug.

I don't think this is a lack of curiosity on my part, but rather a mellowing that has come with age. I've realized that it's a big world out there and I cannot know it all. When I was 25, I think I thought I could know everything if I just tried hard enough. Now I know I can't be an expert on everything. I'll never understand Chinese politics or astrophysics or how cricket is played. I have learned some limitations to my knowledge, and I'm okay with it. I know I could find the answers if it were important to me, but I also know I don't have to know it all.

I guess that's a sign of maturity, right?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Biking to work

My consulting business has gotten very busy this month, which is great. And I think some of the clients I'm working with have potential to be longer term. My partnership is working out well too. We put in a bid for a project and we won it, so now we're knuckling down to do the work.

All this is great, but it's meant a lot less free time. Such is the life of a freelancer, of course. But when you're a busy professional and a mom, finding time for workouts gets harder and harder when your day life gets busier (and when you have to go back to the computer after the kids are in bed too!). So my triathlon training suffered a bit, until the sun came out.

We've had a lot of yucky weather in Vancouver this Spring, with lots of rain, not much sun, and here it is May but temps are still below 'seasonal', meaning the heat is still on, we're all wearing jackets and my son's t-ball games are being played without sunshine. Still there are some sunny moments, and they inspired me.

For the past few weeks, whenever I have a meeting within about 10 km of my home, I've biked. This may not seem like a big deal, but I live on a hill, in a hilly city, and there's a lot of uphill I have to bike through to get anywhere in any direction, especially returning home. But the city is also under siege by construction, so biking isn't really taking me much longer than busing or driving. And it gets my workouts in during the workday.

The best part is my wardrobe, which I believe I now have down a science. I don't want to take meetings in my biking tights, so I bring a change of clothes, but I 'change' in public. I wear 3/4 length lights and a black tank top under my biking shirt/jacket. When I get there, I change my runners for nice flats, pull a long skirt over my tights, take my biking shirt off (still wearing the tank -- see I'm never undressed!), and put on a nice top over my tank top. And voila, you'd never know I was on a bike. And since most of my meetings are downhill from me, I don't arrive too sweaty.

Last week I had a meeting at City Hall, which is on a busy street. I arrived, locked my bike on the rack right in front of the building, and proceeded to change. A driver who was sat at a red light on the street before me made wolf whistles as I changed. And frankly, I loved it!

But today's downtown meeting has just been canceled, so I guess I'll have to go biking sometime before I serve my kids dinner. Still gotta pound out those miles -- I mean kilometres.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mid career = 2 years?

A job posting crossed my desk last week from my professional organization. It was with a government organization I'm interested in working with (not necessarily a job, maybe consulting), so it peaked my interest. Right away I realized it wasn't for me, because the salary offered was at least 30% below anything I'd consider. But the part that has me bugged this morning is this:

You are an experienced mid-career ... professional who thrives in a fast-paced environment....You hold a post-secondary degree or diploma in communications, public relations or journalism and have two years as a Junior Public Affairs Officer or an equivalent combination of education and experience.

Since when is two years experience mid-career? And since when do "mid-career" jobs pay just above entry level salaries?

Who writes these things?!