lundi, mars 29, 2010

work for a plonker crossed with a dipstick?

A little while back, I wrote a thank-you note to two former bosses. You see, I had what I fear are the best bosses of my life early in my career, when I was too green to know how lucky I was to have them as my managers. I thanked them for mentoring me, giving me autonomy with accountability, being flexible when needed, and treating me with genuine respect as a colleague.

I'd like to think that I'll find that again, but will admit to feeling a bit jaded as I watch my friends and colleagues endure odd situations with management that isn't really the kind of leadership to which I aspire. Over the years, I've learned to let it roll off my back and to focus on what's more important. I've also realized that I will probably be happiest (and do my best work) if I have the chutzpah to choose to work as a consultant or finally write that children's book I've been thinking about for the past few years.

For now, I'm staying put at my company, grateful for a paycheck in this economy and even more grateful for the other kindred spirits who brighten what could be just another soul-sucking corporate existence. Meanwhile, I'm doing good work, reminding my friends to focus on the fact that there has to be a light at the end of the tunnel, and counting my lucky stars that I don't work for the asstard described in the essay below.
Cubicle Wars: My Worst Boss (By Urban Cowgirl)
Monday, March 29, 2010

My job's sole redeeming feature is its salary. It's enough to live on, and I am grateful that in the Current Economic Climatetm I have a reason to commute two hours and hate the intervening eight hours with internal white-hot fury. The story of how I ended up here is lengthy and boring but suffice to say I had my dream job, that taxed the very limits of my intellect, and I gave it up to return to the UK because my mother was ill and I needed to be close.

I've been reaching for the gin bottle positivity-ing myself out of bed every morning, and last week I figured out that Anti-Bed leverage was enhanced by recalling that at least the people I work with are nice. Some of them are incompetent, but that's Dilbert's Third Law of Management. Nobody is actively nasty or intentionally destructive. No matter how much I hate my current job, it's not as bad as when I worked for My Worst Boss.

When I was a very young onion, I worked five years for a manager whose behaviour was so far over the line he couldn't have seen the line through the Hubble Telescope I imagined myself ramming up his backside.

When I'd been there a few months, on returning to my desk after lunch I found a copy of The Sun open at page 3 (the page The Sun dedicates to photos of topless women). Hilariously, that day's woman shared my first name. I threw the newspaper away and didn't report the sexual harassment, reasoning that my unimpressed glare had been sufficient to beat down any notions of future gender-abuse-related 'amusement'. I was right. But years later I wish I'd had the guts to march to the Director and threaten to take the organisation to court.

My Worst Boss had a drinking problem with a side of aggression. He would roll into the office at 10.30am with cadaver skin, groan at his desk until just after midday, and then proceed directly to a local drinking establishment. If I needed anything, that was my window, because after one of his special two or three hour lunchtime inhibition-busting sessions there was no point trying to interact. I attempted, once, to rescue reason from the jaws of Guinness at 3.30pm. I described a problem, and he suggested a solution so ridiculous that I queried his sanity. "Are you sure?" I said, "That might lead to the Earth being blown up and all its inhabitants dying a painful death." He told me that it would be 'fine'. It went pear-shaped the following week, whereupon I ended up back at his desk to be roared at. "Why did you do THAT?!"

Because you told me to.

"I never would have told you to do something so idiotic!"

I could only inwardly lament that during the conversation where he instructed me, only one of us was sober.

After lunches he would often come back bearing gifts of coffee and cake, because he knew he was doing wrong and he needed to feel better about leaving his staff to pick up the pieces of his shattered professionalism. When the telephone rang after lunch he would lean back and project his voice to the open plan office. Pity the poor fool on the line: they would be there hours later, listening to such effective relationship-management strategies as "Yes! It is under the enormous pile of incredibly URGENT million other things I have to do! WOULD YOU LIKE TO COME OVER AND LOOK AT MY DESK?". My colleagues and I would pretend we were deaf. I would get emails from people who had been trying to reach him for months, pleading with me to somehow have him respond to them.

Business was often transacted after work in the pub: if you didn't go, you would simply not find out things that were vital to the job. On one memorable occasion My Worst Boss had four too many drinks and got seriously bent out of shape because I'd arranged an external meeting with a client fully two weeks hence without yet mentioning it to him. It was in my calendar, which he could look at any time he could see straight, and he had previously told me to do whatever I felt was best. So I did, and now I was the recipient of a drunken rage in front of multiple colleagues. A senior colleague leapt to my defence, and I was so worried My Worst Boss would start throwing punches that I went home in tears.

The next day I explained to My Worst Boss's Boss that I didn't find it acceptable to be torn a new one in front of colleagues during a 'social' engagement outside the office. I didn't find it acceptable that My Worst Boss would tell me one thing one minute, deny it the next, and I could never be sure which way was up. I felt humiliated, hurt, and confused. I used the words drinking problem. I was told to go and see Human Resources Remains. Human Remains notified me that the only course of action was the dreaded formal complaint. I suggested that perhaps help (and a soft-skills course) for him could be productive as a first step. Could they instruct My Worst Boss's Boss to have a word with My Worst Boss? Why should this fall on my small, inexperienced shoulders? They might as well have washed their hands in front of me.

I returned to My Worst Boss's Boss, who gave me a book entitled 'How To Deal With Difficult People'. On my way home I realised that I was being asked to change my behaviour to accommodate someone who was an asshole and an alcoholic (probably the former because of the latter). This seemed neither sound logic for a long-term solution, nor fair. And the authors of the book had clearly never had to deal with My Worst Boss.

In ten years of working, for four months I was managed by someone whose integrity, intelligence, and professionalism I utterly respected. She made me want to leap out of bed every morning and hurtle to work. They are out there: but a rare breed.

Colonists, do you work for a plonker crossed with a dipstick? Please, share your tales from the trenches. Who was Your Worst Boss?

Urban Cowgirl is a Colony team member. You can read more about her here.

three more yanks before putting an end to this

How I love the Onion ... Dog To Allow Child 3 More Yanks On Tail Before Putting An End To This

dimanche, mars 28, 2010

smoky shrimp and cheesy grits

This is the closest we've ever been to channeling Paula Deen.

I say that because Leo tried to add butter to the grits, until I pointed out that shrimp + bacon + cheese = a cholesterol trifecta. We did serve it with a beautiful organic garden salad.

Total time:
20 minutes
Serves: 4

1 cup instant grits
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 slices bacon
1 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 plum tomatoes, chopped (or 3/4 cup diced canned organic tomatoes)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Smoky Chipotle Tabasco sauce, to taste

  1. In a skillet, brown 4 slices bacon over medium-high heat. Remove from pan, place on paper towels and cool. Crumble.
  2. Prepare grits. Add salt and cheese. Stir until well combined.
  3. Add shrimp and tomatoes to the bacon fat already in the skillet; cook until the shrimp are opaque, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in scallions and bacon.
  4. Serve over the grits.
  5. Add Tabasco sauce to taste.
Adapted from Smoky Shrimp and Grits by Kate Merker and Sara Quessenberry, Real Simple, April 2010

mercredi, mars 24, 2010

pickles and ice cream

Leo and I will become parents in July. I think it's fitting that a Francophile like me would have a baby due on Bastille Day (14 July). Whether he makes his debut on le quatorze or not, I'm very excited to meet our little boy.

lundi, mars 22, 2010

modern love: my first lesson in motherhood

Life often hands us more than we think that we can handle. And somehow, we find we're more resilient and more capable than we thought.
My First Lesson in Motherhood
Published: May 13, 2007

I SAW the scar the first time I changed Natalie’s diaper, just an hour after the orphanage director handed her to me in a hotel banquet room in Nanchang, a provincial capital in southeastern China.

Despite the high heat and humidity, her caretakers had dressed her in two layers, and when I peeled back her sweaty clothes I found the worst diaper rash I’d ever seen, and a two-inch scar at the base of her spine cutting through the red bumps and peeling skin.

The next day, when the Chinese government would complete the adoption, also was Natalie’s first birthday. We had a party for her that night, attended by families we’d met and representatives of the adoption agency, and Natalie licked cake frosting from my finger. But we worried about a rattle in her chest, and there was the scar, so afterward my husband, Matt, asked our adoption agency to send the doctor.

We had other concerns, too. Natalie was thin and pale and couldn’t sit up or hold a bottle. She had only two teeth, barely any hair and wouldn’t smile. But I had anticipated such things. My sister and two brothers were adopted from Nicaragua, the boys as infants, and when they came home they were smelly, scabies-covered diarrhea machines who could barely hold their heads up. Yet those problems soon disappeared.

I believed Natalie would be fine, too. There was clearly a light on behind those big dark eyes. She rested her head against my chest in the baby carrier and would stare up at my face, her lips parting as she leaned back, as if she knew she was now safe.

She would be our first child. We had set our hearts on adopting a baby girl from China years before, when I was reporting a newspaper story about a local mayor’s return home with her new Chinese daughter. Adopting would come later, we thought. After I became pregnant.

But I didn’t become pregnant. And after two years of trying, I was tired of feeling hopeless, of trudging down this path not knowing how it would end. I did know, however, how adopting would end: with a baby.

So we’d go to China first and then try to have a biological child. We embarked on a process, lasting months, of preparing our application and opening our life to scrutiny until one day we had a picture of our daughter on our refrigerator. Fourteen months after deciding to adopt, we were in China.

And now we were in a hotel room with a Chinese doctor, an older man who spoke broken English. After listening to Natalie’s chest, he said she had bronchitis. Then he turned her over and looked at her scar.

Frowning, he asked for a cotton swab and soap. He coated an end in soap and probed her sphincter, which he then said was “loose.” He suspected she’d had a tumor removed and wondered aloud if she had spina bifida before finally saying that she would need to be seen at the hospital.

TWO taxis took us all there, and as we waited to hear news, I tried to think positive thoughts: of the room we had painted for Natalie in light yellow and the crib with Winnie the Pooh sheets. But my mind shifted when I saw one of the women from the agency in a heated exchange in Chinese with the doctors, then with someone on her cellphone. We pleaded with her for information.

“It’s not good,” she said.

A CT scan confirmed that there had been a tumor that someone, somewhere, had removed. It had been a sloppy job; nerves were damaged, and as Natalie grew her condition would worsen, eventually leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Control over her bladder and bowels would go, too; this had already begun, as indicated by her loose sphincter. Yes, she had a form of spina bifida, as well as a cyst on her spine.

I looked at my husband in shock, waiting for him to tell me that I had misunderstood everything. But he only shook his head.

I held on to him and cried into his chest, angry that creating a family seemed so impossible for us, and that life had already been so difficult for Natalie.

Back at the hotel, we hounded the women from the agency: Why wasn’t this in her medical report? How could a scar that size not be noticed? It was two inches long, for God’s sake.

They shook their heads. Shrugged. Apologized.

And then they offered a way to make it better.

“In cases like these, we can make a rematch with another baby,” the one in charge said. The rest of the process would be expedited, and we would go home on schedule. We would simply leave with a different girl.

Months before, we had been presented with forms asking which disabilities would be acceptable in a prospective adoptee — what, in other words, did we think we could handle: H.I.V., hepatitis, blindness? We checked off a few mild problems that we knew could be swiftly corrected with proper medical care. As Matt had written on our application: “This will be our first child, and we feel we would need more experience to handle anything more serious.”

Now we faced surgeries, wheelchairs, colostomy bags. I envisioned our home in San Diego with ramps leading to the doors. I saw our lives as being utterly devoted to her care. How would we ever manage?

Yet how could we leave her? Had I given birth to a child with these conditions, I wouldn’t have left her in the hospital. Though a friend would later say, “Well, that’s different,” it wasn’t to me.

I pictured myself boarding the plane with some faceless replacement child and then explaining to friends and family that she wasn’t Natalie, that we had left Natalie in China because she was too damaged, that the deal had been a healthy baby and she wasn’t.

How would I face myself? How would I ever forget? I would always wonder what happened to Natalie.

I knew this was my test, my life’s worth distilled into a moment. I was shaking my head “No” before they finished explaining. We didn’t want another baby, I told them. We wanted our baby, the one sleeping right over there. “She’s our daughter,” I said. “We love her.”

Matt, who had been sitting on the bed, lifted his glasses, and, wiping the tears from his eyes, nodded in agreement.

Yet we had a long, fraught night ahead, wondering how we would possibly cope. I called my mother in tears and told her the news.

There was a long pause. “Oh, honey.”

I sobbed.

She waited until I’d caught my breath. “It would be O.K. if you came home without her.”

“Why are you saying that?”

“I just wanted to absolve you. What do you want to do?”

“I want to take my baby and get out of here,” I said.

“Good,” my mother said. “Then that’s what you should do.”

In the morning, bleary-eyed and aching, we decided we would be happy with our decision. And we did feel happy. We told ourselves that excellent medical care might mitigate some of her worst afflictions. It was the best we could hope for.

But within two days of returning to San Diego — before we had even been able to take her to the pediatrician — things took yet another alarming turn.

While eating dinner in her highchair, Natalie had a seizure — her head fell forward then snapped back, her eyes rolled and her legs and arms shot out ramrod straight. I pulled her from the highchair, handed her to Matt and called 911.

When the paramedics arrived, Natalie was alert and stable, but then she suffered a second seizure in the emergency room. We told the doctors what we had learned in China, and they ordered a CT scan of her brain.

Hours later, one of the emergency room doctors pulled up a chair and said gravely, “You must know something is wrong with her brain, right?”

We stared at her. Something was wrong with her brain, too, in addition to everything else?

“Well,” she told us, “Natalie’s brain is atrophic.”

I fished into my purse for a pen as she compared Natalie’s condition to Down syndrome, saying that a loving home can make all the difference. It was clear, she added, that we had that kind of home.

She left us, and I cradled Natalie, who was knocked out from seizure medicine. Her mouth was open, and I leaned down, breathing in her sweet breath that smelled like soy formula.

Would we ever be able to speak to each other? Would she tell me her secrets? Laugh with me?

Whatever the case, I would love her and she would know it. And that would have to be enough. I thanked God we hadn’t left her.

She was admitted to the hospital, where we spent a fitful night at her bedside. In the morning, the chief of neurosurgery came in. When we asked him for news, he said, “It’s easier if I show you.”

In the radiology department screening room, pointing at the CT scan, he told us the emergency room doctor had erred; Natalie’s brain wasn’t atrophic. She was weak and had fallen behind developmentally, but she had hand-eye coordination and had watched him intently as he examined her. He’d need an M.R.I. for a better diagnosis. We asked him to take images of Natalie’s spine, too.

He returned with more remarkable news. The M.R.I. ruled out the brain syndromes he was worried about. And nothing was wrong with Natalie’s spine. She did not have spina bifida. She would not become paralyzed. He couldn’t believe anyone could make such a diagnosis from the poor quality of the Chinese CT film. He conceded there probably had been a tumor, and that would need to be monitored, but she might be fine. The next year would tell.

There would be other scares, more seizures and much physical therapy to teach her to sit, crawl and walk. She took her first steps one day on the beach at 21 months, her belly full of fish tacos.

NOW she is nearly 3, with thick brown hair, gleaming teeth and twinkling eyes. She takes swimming lessons, goes to day care and insists on wearing flowered sandals to dance. I say to her, “Ohhhh, Natalie,” and she answers, “Ohhhh, Mama.” And I blink back happy tears.

Sometimes when I’m rocking her to sleep, I lean down and breathe in her breath, which now smells of bubble-gum toothpaste and the dinner I cooked for her while she sat in her highchair singing to the dog. And I am amazed that this little girl is mine.

It’s tempting to think that our decision was validated by the fact that everything turned out O.K. But for me that’s not the point. Our decision was right because she was our daughter and we loved her. We would not have chosen the burdens we anticipated, and in fact we declared upfront our inability to handle such burdens. But we are stronger than we thought.

Elizabeth Fitzsimons, who lives in San Diego, is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

mercredi, mars 17, 2010


There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. - Albert Einstein

tips for photographing toddlers and children

For friends who want to take better pictures of their kids ...
Tips for Photographing Toddlers & Children: Amy PostleGet down to your child's level
  1. Be a silent observer: Rather than instructing, positioning, and asking your child to smile - take a step back and enjoy the subtleties of your children. You will see, appreciate and capture the natural moments in your child’s life, rather than taking another staged “say cheese” picture.
  2. Activities are important: Keep your child occupied and happy by giving them an activity or toy that they love. If your children are happy and active, great photos are sure to follow.
  3. Get down to your child's level: Sit on the ground, or lay down if you need to. Physically moving to their level will give you a new and unique perspective. Move around and experiment with cropping. Make sure to come in close and observe the little things in those moments too- their hands, feet, smile, etc. Play around with the perspective and you'll find some amazing moments to capture that you would have otherwise missed standing up!
  4. Be aware of the light source: When outside, avoid direct sunlight, which causes harsh shadows and squinty eyes (cloudy days are great). On a sunny day, find a shaded spot and turn off your flash (even snapshot cameras have this option). You'll get a much more realistic, beautiful and naturally lit image. When indoor, try and position your children near a window- window light provides beautiful natural light and helps you avoid the harsh light from a flash. (Avoiding flash photography also helps with tip #1- flashes tend to startle children, especially younger ones.)
  5. Pay attention to the background: Try and avoid shooting towards backgrounds that are busy and distracting (poles in the background can often give the "skewered effect!") If the background is busy however, you can solve this simply by moving your own body and camera position even slightly- change the angle and you will change the photograph.
  6. Ask them to do simple tasks: For example, ask your child to look out the window- you’ll have beautiful window light on their face, while capturing their sense of curiosity at the world.
  7. Be a part of the moment: Have one parent (or friend) photograph while the other parent participates. Embrace the opportunity to interact with your child and be photographed with them. Do what they want to do, be a part of their world and enjoy it! A client told me once that the greatest gift was looking back at photographs of her playing with her children and being able to see the true joy she felt as a mother all over again.
  8. Shoot in Black & White: Black and white strips away the “noise” of every day life and really brings focus to the child and the moment. It is classic, timeless, and always beautiful. Plus, if you are photographing your child indoors, it will help you avoid the normal color shifts that occur on film when shot without a flash under standard household bulbs.
  9. Let them be themselves: Allow them to pick their own clothes for the photos. Even if it’s silly or sassy- capture that! Great photographs come from capturing the real moments that children experience not from the perfect smile, or a constructed moment. Ask them what ideas they have for photographs and indulge them. I bet they will surprise you.
  10. Making faces is fun: One of my favorite things to ask children to do is make faces- every face they can think of from silly, to serious, mad, sad, and anything else they can come up with. It’s a good way to warm them up for picture taking while making them realize that taking photos can be fun! Chances are they will start laughing half way through and be a ham for the camera afterwards.
  11. Make a contact sheet: Have a contact sheet made instead of prints. Contact (or proof) sheets show the story of the day- they are a fantastic way to see the personality of the shoot and your child, without having to choose one shot. Frame it as a single picture and it will be like having a mini movie on your wall.
  12. Think like a professional: Think about the big picture- what’s in the background? What’s in the foreground? If you move slightly to one side or the other will the shot improve? How is the lighting? Would this be better as a horizontal or vertical image? Would B&W or color be more effective? What do I hope to achieve? Think like a professional and over time your photographs will improve. Have fun, be adventurous and trust your instincts!
Learn more about Amy:
Podcast - Amy Postle pushes the boundaries of her art by evoking passion, beauty and emotion with color and black and white films.
Visit Amy's website:

mardi, mars 09, 2010


"They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold; and I deem them mad because they think my days have a price." -Kahlil Gibran, (1883-1931) Lebanese American artist, poet, and writer. Gibran is considered to be the third most widely read poet, behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu, in history.