Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Flying Lessons

I saw more than my fair share of airports in 2010, not that I'm complaining.  I thought a bit about airports, airlines and flying in general a couple of days ago, returning to Chicago from the long holiday weekend back in Cleveland. Actually, I spent most of my time thinking about the items that travelers carry aboard airplanes.

Here's what I typically take:
  • A large shoulder bag with enough room for my purse, books and necessities
  • Reading material. In theory, flying is a great way to keep up with my reading. Perhaps it's just me, but there seems to be more books, magazines, papers and blogs that I'd like to read, but less time in which to do so. I have a stack of books by my bed and another by my easy chair. I am constantly jotting titles and authors on lists for future reading.

    So I tuck a few items in my carryon and let myself enjoy a few minutes while cramped into small spaces with inadequate lighting and deafening sound levels. For longer trips, I like to load up my ipod with ebooks - much less weight to drag through airports, less bulky to shove under the seat in front of me, and no worries about inadequate lighting. Unless I forget to charge the ipod before I go.
  • A shawl or wrap - the longer the flight, the colder the cabin seems to get
  • A snack - Seems silly for a short flight, but I have had flights delayed or canceled and been stuck in airports with either no food for sale or only very pricey items available. This is a life saver.
  • A laptop bag (duh)


When my mom travels, she packs her "necessary bag." This includes everything she could possibly need/want during her trip, including wine, cheese and crackers.

Need to sew on a button? Mom's got a sewing kit. Paper cut? Here's a bandage. Headache? Aspirin at the ready. Since she usually travels by train or car, she can get away with carrying things forbidden on planes, like a knife for the cheese and a corkscrew for the wine.
I try never to have to gate check a bag. Seriously, I don't want to be in the line of people who cannot wait to get off the plane, then queue up along with sides of the gangway (freezing, usually), blocking the way of others trying to leave because we purposely packed so as not to have to gate check anything. Phew! Sorry - got that off my chest.

Airports - you know what would make airports much better? Multiple power outlets in passenger waiting areas. In the Fort Lauderdale airport earlier this month, I searched a four-gate area for a power outlet. There was one (1) - behind the gate crew desk. Where does the cleaning crew plug in a vacuum? Not that the carpet looked very clean. In other airports, you can locate an outlet but must sit on the floor, your back to a pillar or window, to use it. I'm sure it made sense even fifteen years ago, when most of us did not carry electronics on our persons, but not today. The same with airplanes - what about making power available in economy class? How awesome that would be! =sigh=

I like flying, but airlines have made it harder to like. So many restrictions, rules, fees. Still, flying is often a convenient mode of transportation that makes possible my husband and I living and working in separate states. If I couldn't fly, I'd be able to see him less. So thanks, Continental, United, American, et al. Keep 'em in the air, keep 'em safe. I'll pack lightly and be courteous to my fellow travelers. And I'll try to remember to charge my electronics before I leave the office.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lions and Dragons and Monsoons, oh, my!

November is an interesting time in Singapore. A visitor might expect hot, humid and sunny weather, being so near the equator. What a visitor finds, though, is a bit different. Oh, not the hot and humid part - the weather definitely delivers in that regard.

It's the sunny part that's amiss. During late October/early November, the smog index climbs due to intentionally set forest fires in neighboring Indonesia. The winds carry the resulting smoke to Singapore, blocking out the sun and affecting the air quality.

Once the air clears...Surprise! it's monsoon season. Expect overcast skies and rain daily. This morning it poured buckets. You know, I thought about bringing an umbrella with me. Fortunately my colleague brought a spare.

I have seen sunshine twice since arriving on Sunday. I just checked the long-range weather forecast - it calls for 88 degrees (F) and thunderstorms daily for the next ten days. Really?

On the other hand, Singapore is delightful. Lovely gardens, bustling streets, modern buildings and a striking cultural blend make the city truly fascinating. I love the contrasts here - for instance, the University of Chicago School of Business is housed in a 19th century Chinese mansion, situated in front of a sleek glass and steel office building.

I took a stroll my first day in Singapore and turned onto Orchard Road. It was like walking in Times Square or Las Vegas. Christmas decorations bloom along the street, including a full-sized sleigh and reindeer. Wendy's and Starbucks reside alongside electronics shops, custom tailors and Indian restaurants. Borders and Subway, Hard Rock Cafe and California Pizza Kitchen, Chili's and Marks and Spenser. It's a small world after all.

Ask anyone who has been here and they'll tell you - Singapore may be the cleanest place in the world. Changi Airport is by far the most beautiful, well-maintained airport I have ever visited, all gleaming stone and metal. It is also incredibly quiet, in my personal experience. Of course, arriving after 1 a.m. may have been a contributing factor to the lack of noise.

I hope to explore the island more extensively this weekend, visiting the new Double Helix bridge, the Merlion (or the lion vomiting into the bay, as my colleague says) and Little India. I see shopping in my future, as well as many photo opportunities.

Singapore is a fascinating place, with so much to offer the traveler. I'm glad to be here and looking forward to learning and seeing so much more.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

These are tears of joy, really!

Today my son married his sweetheart. I watched with pride as he and the pastor strode down the walk, under the trees and brilliant sunshine, to take his new bride's hand and begin the next great adventure together. I held it together (thanks to waterproof mascara). It was magical.

Surrounded by their best friends and two extended families, my son and daughter-in-law celebrated in style. They thought of everything, including biodegradable confetti. Vases filled with fresh peaches were fragrant centerpieces, and guests were encouraged to use the handy paper sacks to take one or two home with them.

Strings of photos graced the mantle - snapshots of their separate lives, darling children, on one string, then a record of the time since their worlds intersected. Okay, I may have shed a tear or two here, too.

My husband and I laughed, danced, hugged and kissed our way through an exquisite evening, and two families merged. What a joy to know my boy has found love, with such a wonderful woman. Today I gained a daughter. I've always wanted a daughter [pause for more tears].

I danced...a lot. My old feet are cranky and creaky now, but so what. My son and I danced together. I might have cried again here. You got a problem with that?

I know this isn't my best writing. It's probably due to the tears now in my eyes, and the lump in my throat. This post isn't my best work, but today's events were the result of some of my best work ever. We raised him and sent him out into the world, and he came back to share his joy with us. I'm the happiest person on earth tonight. And I'm still crying. Thanks for letting me share my joy with you. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night...

New idea! My mom (God bless her, she's 71 and thinks she's 40) is bored. She has read every book by her favorite mystery authors and has resorted to grabbing armfuls of books from the library shelves just to try something new. She was lamenting this to me last week, complaining that she was unhappy with how the books were written - characters without an ounce of character, thinking and acting in ridiculous ways, skating along unbelievably thin plot lines.

Now, for years we both, like everyone else you know, have said, "Some day I'm going to write a book." I even started writing one (but that's another post). So last week I suggested we write one together. It could be about a woman living in the north woods of Michigan, her daughter living in the big city and their differences (and similarities) while discovering and solving a crime.

Mom got very excited--"We can do this!" she cried. "'It was a dark and stormy night...'"

"Oh, please." She could probably hear me rolling my eyes over the mobile phone. Then I said, "Okay, but here's how it starts: 'It was a dark and stormy night.' She paused, her fingers hesitant above the keyboard. 'I can't believe I just wrote that old cliché. Am I losing my touch?'"

Mom laughed, then cautioned, "Except I'll be writing longhand."

It was my turn to laugh. "No worries, mom. You write the first chapter and send it to me. I'll transcribe it and write chapter two. Let's see what we come up with."

If nothing else, we'll have a little diversion to keep us occupied for the rest of the summer. What are you doing for diversion this summer?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

About eight weeks ago I moved from Cleveland to the Chicago area to take a new job. Quite an adventure - moving 350+ miles away from friends and family, from the house we built and the city I had come to know and love through 23 years of living.

Now I'm in Illinois and my darling husband is in Northeast Ohio. We've never been this far apart for this long in almost 30 years of marriage, and let me tell you - it's tough. I mean, you expect to miss the person you're closest to, but it happens in funny little ways.

Like missing the ballast on the other side of the bed, and the sound of his breathing when you wake with a start at night. Like learning to make single serving meals (or get used to lots of leftovers). Like having someone to split a pizza with, go to a movie with and discuss the doings on your favorites TV shows.

Don't get me wrong - I "do" alone better than most of my married friends. I'm perfectly comfortable going out alone, exploring a new part of the country and learning my way around. I'm independent and I'm comfortable with myself.

But I have neither had nor wanted a single life for the last 30 years, and the sudden transition is difficult. So we try to find ways to be together as often as possible, at least a weekend every two to three weeks, sometimes more often. I'm racking up the frequent flyer miles, because the six- to seven-hour drive eats into the time I can share with family and friends back home.

On the plus side, I'm working again after eight months of unemployment. We're catching up on bills and savings again, although it's tough making up that much ground. I'm making new friends, I work for a great company with terrific benefits, and I live in a beautiful area.

So, yeah. I chose this path - I chose to work, to live apart from my family and to start a new adventure - and I'd make the same decision again. But every once in a while, I think I'm allowed to throw a little pity party for one.

Okay. I'm over it. Thanks for letting me vent. Let's talk about something else, shall we?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

An Organized Mind is a Dangerous Think

"An organized desk is the sign of a sick mind." Remember that chestnut? I , too, laughed away my organizational skills (or lack thereof) for years. But over time it became apparent that I needed to get a handle on my desk, car, sewing room, etc.

So I read all the self-help books and tried all the systems. I tried color coding files, which actually helped, for a while. I used blue for projects/assignments, red for critical deadlines, and green for administrative tasks like expense reports and time sheets. After a while, though, I'd be too busy to get up and find or order the right colors, and then I was back to plain manila folders, scattered everywhere.

I tried setting up a tickler file system, which I now realize was too complicated. I tried keeping "to-do" lists, which also helped for a while. Except I kept forgetting to put things on the list, or I'd put things down like "Make a to-do list" or "Eat lunch." I kept trying to include things I would do or had already done so that I could mark something as completed.

Each time I tried a new system and then abandoned it, I felt like a failure and became more sensitive about my disorganization. Then one day I was talking with a colleague about personal areas for improvement and I mentioned being disorganized. She was shocked and said, " But you're the most organized person I know." What???

I laughed nervously as she explained. "You always have whatever I need, your work is timely, you proofread and edit carefully. So what if your desk has a lot of paper on it? The papers are necessary for your job. You never lose anything, and I can find things when you're not here."

And she was right. I was so used to seeing myself as disorganized that I didn't notice that all my failed efforts at organization had actually paid some dividends. Sure, I gave up on using other people's systems. Just because the systems worked for someone else didn't mean they'd work for me. But each time I tried something new, I adjusted and improved.

I think I'm better organized now, but I really have to work at it. About once a week I try to catch up on filing, so it doesn't completely get away from me. I've carefully organized my electronic files in folders that make sense to me. I am getting rid of the stuff that accumulates over the years. I mean, do I really need to save the name badges from the conferences I've attended? No, I don't.

And now I'm a proponent of organizing things in baskets or bins. A new trick this year for holiday decorations: instead of gathering all the bells in one box, all the garland in another and all the candles in yet another, I packed the decorations for the mantle in one box, layered a holiday towel over top, then packed the decorations for the piano in the next layer. Then - get this - I labeled the box. I'm so excited!

Career counselors tell us we need to be aware of both our strengths and our weaknesses (or developmental opportunities, as I think of them). Among my strengths: an ability and desire to see all sides of an issue before making decisions, strong written and oral communication skills, and a creative mind. Among my developmental opportunities, continuing to improve my organizational skills, take more thorough project notes, and wanting to give people the benefit of the doubt for too long (or is that a strength?). All in all, I like to think these balance out on the positive.

What are your developmental opportunities? Do you wish you could build stronger relationships with colleagues? Be a better proofreader? A better employee or employer? A better partner? Can you do one thing differently that will help you improve? What will you do differently today? And now I'm going to clean out the laundry room cupboard and organize the contents in plastic baskets. With labels.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Got scholarships?

One of my responsibilities as vice-president of the Cleveland chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) involves giving money away. What could be better?

IABC Cleveland each year hosts the Future Vision Award – a scholarship and internship offered to a communications student in Northeast Ohio. Let me tell you about this great program.

Each year we open the competition to local communications college students. Eligible students are those

  • Whose permanent address is in Northeast Ohio, attend any accredited four-year college or university OR
  • Attend an accredited four-year college or university located in Northeast Ohio AND
  • Are either sophomores or juniors in a communications degree program

Interested students complete an application that includes answering a hypothetical question. The question is a basic communications-related question about a hypothetical but realistic work situation. Students must also submit a letter of reference from a professor, academic advisor or business person.

For their troubles, the students get a chance at a $2,000 scholarship plus work experience. IABC Cleveland has a relationship with a local non-profit agency that provides an internship over the summer of 2010 – good, honest, actual work experience that not only prepares the intern for the work he or she will do after graduation but looks great on a resume.

Who do you know that could benefit from the Future Vision Award scholarship? Send us your students, your kids, your neighbor’s kids (providing they meet the eligibility criteria). Just have them visit soon. The deadline for entries is Friday, February 26, 2010.