Monday, May 30, 2005

The long good-bye

I have been thinking about leave taking and the phrase, "this will be the last time..." quite a lot lately. You see, after almost fifteen years at the same company, in the same division, doing the same thing, I have accepted an offer of employment with a competitor. The decision to do so has not been easy. Nay, it has been rather difficult but the time has come leave Company B. And, I know it. I think my direct boss knows it but, in typical PHB fashion, has his head so deep in the sand or his manager's you-know-what that he doesn't really want to know it. MBH definitely knows it and has known for probably longer than I have. He has been a major cheerleader while I have struggled with this decision and his support has been the rock I've clung to these past two or three weeks. So now that time to go has come, the actual leaving can't come soon enough.

I have been doing a dance with Company E for several years now. They are one of Company B's largest competitors and, to make matters more interesting, they are in Company B's backyard, literally. If we were doing a job or working on a project locally, I could guarantee that I would see someone from the Evil Empire at bid meetings, trying to get into the back door, etc. Like clockwork, they would call every six months or so and say "Hey, BC, we really, really want you to come to work for us. We can offer x,y, and z. You are stagnating over there at Company B. Come work for us please." It was always pretty easy to say, “Gee, thanks for the offer. You know, I think I’ll pass. I’m pretty happy here. yadayadayada.” It was an easy answer and basically true. I was happy. Bored sometimes but I had faith that eventually, things would get more interesting. Until recently that is.

Several weeks ago, I received my bi-annual call from Company E. They had my dream job. They were looking for someone to head up a global group of designers. They were ready to take it to the next level and they wanted me to head up the effort. Basically to create a home-grown group of hired guns and shape the world wide message for this group. Not only was it more money but it was the chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do, be the head guru of a respected group of engineers. “Would you be interested?” the recruiter asked me over the phone. Would I be interested?! Sure, I’ll take a look at it. I was pretty sure before I got the job description that I would have the same answer I had always had in the past, but MBH is always telling me to look at all offers. The job description came. I read it and with each passing second I could feel the excitement building. Hey! Who has been in my brain scanning my dreams and desires? Before I knew it, I was in the throes of the dance. I was pretty sure I wanted this job but my loyalty to Company B was strong. I’ve been there for fifteen years after all. Besides, they had been promising me more control, more projects that showcase my talents and I wanted to see how that would pan out. Then came the meeting I had last Tuesday.

A few weeks ago, my boss, his boss, and the director of our division came to me during our huge love-fest and asked if I would like to take on a role that would include more interaction with our clients, the Top Gun position as it were. I jumped at the opportunity. I actually like working with our clients face to face. I like being in the trenches with our distributors and working the deal. On Tuesday, I was getting ready to leave on a big trip to visit a client who was ready to give us more business than we really could handle. We all sat down for a strategy meeting and after the meeting, discussion drifted to the Top Gun position we had been talking about a few weeks ago. “Well, I’m not sure what we are going to do with that position. And the more we think about it, you are just too valuable in-house to lose”, the Director said. All the sudden it was clear, I was never going to get out of running the in-house group doing the same boring thing, day after day. I was “too valuable”. I had been pigeon holed and there was no way out. The only thing preventing me from immediately accepting Company E’s offer was gone. On Wednesday, at the airport on my way to visit my client, I verbally accepted the offer. Thus began the long good-bye. That process of saying to myself, “This will be the last time I do insert-task/event here for Company B”. My last business trip, my last meeting with this client, my last expense report, my last plunking down of the corporate credit card, my last Company B business card handed out, my last “yes, THAT company” answered to a seat-mate somewhere over Kansas. And soon, before I know it, the last day will be here.

I will be sad. I have developed many close friendships with the people I work with and will miss seeing them every day. I still think Company B is a fine company. But, the time has come to move on. To do new things. To dream new dreams and work with new people. I’m excited and scared all at the same time. But, as a line from one of my favorite movies, “Fried Green Tomatoes”, goes: “A lady always knows when it time to leave”.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Don't mind that alter personality in the pearls

I think it would surprise the folks that know me casually to find out that I channel Donna Reed when I get home. I really and honestly do. I come home from work and the first thing I do is pull something out of the freezer for dinner and sit down with MBH to find out about his day. This normally includes bringing him his adult libation and if he had them, I'd bring him his slippers and pipe too. I would bring him his adult libation and ask about his day in pearls and one of those great 50's crinoline skirts with the cats or geometric shapes if I had one. I find it relaxing and comforting to know that at home there are two creatures who only need me to fix dinner and then be there to listen to them, chat with them about various subjects and generally do the things I like most like reading, baking, etc. At home, I can be the plain simple haus-frau and no one minds. I would fill out housewife as a hobby if they would let me.

Take tonight for example, I left work, went to the gym and then came home to decorate a three layer round cake for a surprise wedding shower that the girls at work and I are throwing for a co-worker. Yesterday I baked the layers (two chocolate and one gold yellow), trimmed the domes off two layers so there is a nice even cake, assembled the layers and put the first layer of white frosting on the entire cake. I always let my cakes sit over night with a thin layer of frosting. This lets the cake completely cool and the thin layer of frosting keeps the cake moist. Today, I mixed another batch of frosting, prepared my decorating bags, frosted the base layer on and then decorated the cake. My cake philosophy is keep it clean. I don't do those swirly, heavy on the roses things. Don't get me wrong. Those cakes are fun to make but most people get frosting overload from them. I like to have some cake with my frosting and most people I know do too. Today, I made my sweetheart cake.

Basically a pink base icing with slightly darker pink hearts and a bottom border. I use three decorator's tips, a #2 pipe to do the outlines of the hearts, a #3 pipe to fill in the top heart, and a #33 shell to do the bottom crinkle edge. Total time to decorate 1 hour but don't tell anyone it is that simple. I want them to think I slaved... Now where did I put my apron.

Basic One-Two-Three-Four Cake

This is the classic recipe for cakes that has been used since cake recipes where written. It is simply 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of sifted cake flour and 4 eggs with some milk (1cup), salt(1/4 teaspoon), baking powder(3 teaspoons) and vanilla (1 teaspoon) thrown in for good measure. I like to use almond extract instead of vanilla for a richer taste. There are two keys to making cake from scratch; measure your ingredients very carefully and make sure you assemble the ingredients the proper way. First, sift the flour, salt and baking powder together and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy (almost whipping them). Add the eggs one at a time, beating the mixture thoroughly with each egg. Add the vanilla (or other flavor) to the milk and mix in 1/2 the liquid. Fold in half the flour mixture. Stir in remaining liquid and fold in remaining flour mixture. Mix vigorously until completely combined and there are no little lumps of dry ingredients. Pour into 3 prepared 9" cake pans. (note: I use nonstick pans, sprayed lightly with cooking spray, with the bottom of the pan lined with wax paper and then floured lightly). Bake for approx. 25 - 30 minutes on the center rack of preheated 350 degree oven. Let stand in pan for about 10 minutes and then remove from pan and let cool completely on wire rack before frosting.

Decorator's Frosting: This is my mother's recipe and it tastes better than almost any bakery frosting I've ever had and it holds well in decorator tubes. Not too soft and not to firm.

1 lb Confectioner's Sugar
1 cup Crisco (use only Crisco, the generic brands don't taste right or work well)
1/4 - 1/3 cup milk (depending on humidity)
1 teaspoon almond extract (any flavoring works well but almond is best)
1/8 teaspoon salt

Cream sugar, Crisco, almond extract and salt together (very low speed in stand mixer or better by hand with wooden spoon). Slowly add milk until right consistency. (firm for roses, flowers, etc. Slightly softer for frosting and piping). Let each layer set before adding another to a cake. You can use food coloring to make any color you want.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Catching Up

I've been traveling a lot for work lately. Ok, that is a mild understatement. It seems all I do is get on an airplane, get off an airplane, pick up my rental car, drive to my clients, sit in a meeting or two, drop my rental car off, get on an airplane, get off an airplane and then crash in my hotel room d'jour. I haven't had a chance to read more than business related emails and even worse I haven't been able to read my favourite blogs. So, today has been a day of catching up and it seems that my fellow bloggers have been exceptionally sharp, smarty, witty and wise of late.

Take the recent entry by maikopunk about her secret passion for teenage lit. Her posting about the books we all read (come on, admit it...) was a trip back down memory lane and conjured up images of hiding under the sheets late at night with my flashlight reading when I suppose to be sleeping. I could instantly see my bedroom at my parent's house, the milk crate bookshelves with all my books. I would wait until my parents had gone back downstairs, creep out of bed, select a book to read, grab my flashlight, and crawl back into bed and lose myself for hours in a book. In those books I could be the belle of the ball and not the nerdy ugly duckling that I was.

Then there is the Food Whore. I love her posts. She is the public sarcastic bitch, and I mean that in only the nicest ways, I wish I could be. I have this fantasy of someday chucking my career and opening a nice little bakery somewhere. I read her as my comic relief of the day. Her lastest post about a client returning dirty dishes just proves a suspicion of mine. The more "refined" some people think they are the more like Jed and Grandma Clampet they truly are.

Finally, there is the always thought provoking Imogene over at Cooking with the Mental Office Girl. I stand in awe of her. She somehow finds the most interesting articles to blog about. I'm not talking about surface thinking either. I'm talking about mind boggling, OH! I hadn't thought about this in that way, type of articles. For example her posting on those leeches we all work with. You know the ones I'm talking about. They can't think for themselves and are always coming to one or two people in the office to ask "How to" or "Should I" when what they really are saying is "I don't want to take the effort to learn something new or figure something out on my own. Can you do it for me?".

Good writing one and all!!!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Home is where your pub is

I like to consider myself a renaissance woman. I am well traveled and well read. I love the joy of a good book, a good meal, a good conversation, and especially a really good pint of ale. As such, I have devoted much time to finding a place to sit and enjoy my vices and I have found that there is no place quite like a pub. I find I can easily while away an afternoon or evening in a pub; reflecting on the day's events, perusing a copy of a great newspaper like the New York Times, or chatting local politics with the patrons. No matter where my travels take me, I always find a pub or bar that feels like home. However, that being said, there are four pubs in this world that hold a special place in my heart and I consider them my home pubs or Local as the Brits call them.

I live and work in the greater Boston area. One of the many city's claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of the American Revolution. The birthplace isn't the entire city, it is really a pub located near Haymarket. I know this because the Green Dragon is one of my home pubs and they are quite proud of the fact that Sam Adams, Paul Revere and the rest of the Sons of Liberty planned the Tea Party and other rabble rousin' in their front room. So much so that the story of the Revolution's planning is printed on the bar placemats. The Green Dragon is a warm, friendly place where, when I walk in, I am welcomed by name and can have good conversation, good food, and a pint of my beer of choice, Bass Ale. Like most of the best pubs around the world, the wood is dark, the décor slightly cluttered with local nostalgia, and the bathrooms small. The barstools wobble and my favorite feature of the bar is the hook under the bartop for me to hang-up my purse or backpack. The bar staff is Irish and the food is good basic pub fare. I recommend the Shepherd's Pie and the New England Clam Chowder. One of my favorite things to do at the Green Dragon is to just sit at the bar and reflect on the going ons of our American forefathers. I sit, with a cold pint glass in my hand, and ponder the events of the 1770's and how foreign the idea of Revolution must have seemed to them and the citizens of Boston. I wonder if the people around the world today who are stuggling with the same feelings of oppression from a government who doesn't rule by right/representation feel the same way our founding fathers did when they decided to throw some snowballs at British soldiers on that cold winter day in 1772.

My other home pub in the Boston area is The Old Timer; a little dark "hole in the wall" in a small town outside of Boston, Clinton. The Old Timer is the quintessential small town Irish/American bar. Guinness is the house drink, served complete with a shamrock in the foam. The bar is the front room for the best restaurant in the town, The Old Timer Restaurant. The Old Timer has been a Clinton fixture of over 60 years and you know it the moment you walk into the front door. The McNallys have owned, managed, and worked the bar/restaurant since the day it opened. The walls are decorated with murals of small town life painted by Jim McNally's father in the 1930's; as well as various artifacts of Clinton's sports and civic past. The bar is cluttered with the usual bottles of liquor and glassware, but after you sit down and start sipping your drink or pint of beer you start to notice the faded newsclippings taped to the mirror. Proclamations of past gloried local sports events, political happenings, and the births, deaths, and marriages of the McNallys and long time patrons are all displayed proudly as well as postcards sent by regulars from vacation spots around the world. I sent the McNallys one from my SCUBA vacation in the Isle of Rhodes in Greece and it is sandwiched between a tacky postcard from Atlantic City and another from Beijing, China. It is only after looking at all of these clippings that you start to really understand that the Old Timer is not only the best local watering hole but the heartbeat of Clinton. I love sitting at the bar at the Old Timer where I am known by name and drink. I am not even seated before one of the barkeeps has already started to draw my Bass Ale. I am never offered a menu unless I ask for it because they know I'll order the rueben sandwich with extra fries, and they always remember to bring me a new bottle of ketchup as I use about half a bottle on my fries. On a Saturday night, I can walk in alone and feel surrounded by friends or just sit quietly at the end of the bar and watch a hockey game; while discussing politics and the local gossip with the other regulars.

For awhile, I split my time between Boston and London after my company offered me a joint position in our London offices. As a result, I am now as at home in London as as the Boston and like in Boston, I have two pubs that are my Local when I am in London.

The Albert on Victoria Street in Westminster is where my London friends and I meet for after-work pints or as the starting point for a night of pubs and clubs. It is convenient for us all in regards to the Tube and it is the only pub that regularly serves everyone' s favorite pint or poison. Not to mention, it hasn't gone gastropub on us. The pub is named after Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria and is housed in a magnificent Victorian era building complete with dark wood and etched glass windows. The décor is heavy Victorian, meaning red velvet everywhere. Upstairs, the walls are decorated with pictures of past and present MPs and Prime Ministers. But, the best feature of the Albert isn't an object but a group of men. You see, The Albert is the preferred "hang out" for a group of retired military men known as The Chelsea Pensioners. On any given night, you will find a group of these distinguished gentleman dressed in their red and gold Chelsea Pensioner uniform enjoying a pint or two and regaling anyone who happens to be around with stories of their military service. The stories are best if you stand them a pint or two, but even if you don't, they are a congenial group who enjoy good conversation. If you sit in the Albert long, you had best be able to talk and defend yourself on a variety of subjects, but especially politics. One such visit with MBH found us talking of the "mess in Parliament" with a pair of Londoners who worked for the Minister of Agriculture. The best part of that Parliament discussion was that we had just sat in the Visitors Gallery at the House of Commons that morning and had watched their boss answer questions on everything from farm imports to problems with English honey bees. Our discussion with these blokes digressed into proving exactly how poorly we Americans know our state capitals but a good time and many pints where had by all. We all sat and talked until "Time" was called and afterwards, we weaved our way back to our hotel laughing at the coincidences of the evening.

My other local is the Dog and Duck in Chelsea; conveniently located around the corner from where my flat was or, as my London friends say, "within dragging distance". The Duck, as it is fondly called by the regulars, is just your average London neighborhood pub. It is frequented by businessmen after work and the local folk after 6pm. There is nothing particularly memorable about the surroundings at the Dog and Duck. It is what a typical English local pub should be not what they have become the last year or two with the influx of gastropubs. It has a tin ceiling, wood floor, and tiled walls. They don't serve food; just bags of crisps (potato chips to us in the US). The strangest feature of the interior decoration is a tiled fireplace against one wall that doesn't seem to have been lit in about 50 years but they keep a bucket of coal around, just in case. The tiles have pictures of quaint English village life from the 1700's painted on them. Over the years as tiles have been damaged or gone missing, the broken tiles have been replaced with whatever color, style, etc. of tile that has been available; making the fireplace look like a five year old's pottery project. The bar is the centerpiece of the establishment. One of those really large ornate bars with the veined glass behind the bartop. There are a few beat up tables near the windows and a dartboard on the back wall that you have to pass in front of to get to the loo, especially dangerous around 9pm when the dartgame has been extended by several pints. There is a "telly" above the bar that seems to only get football and cricket games. The BBC4 channel comes in looking like waves. Of course this is the BBC channel that shows "Interview Shows", so on a good afternoon you can watch Parkinson interview Elton John, or hear the tales of some poor chap from Manchester who woke up and found out his wife was also his sister. That goes over really well with the afternoon business crowd. I have spent many an hour at the Dog and Duck, drinking my pint, reading the London Times and two day old New York Times, writing friends back home in the States, and "chatting up" the locals. The barkeep knows I'll have a London Fullers ESB and bag of vinegar crisps. He always asks about my trip "back across the Pond" and then catches me up on the neighborhood gossip and happenings I have missed while away. Proving, home really is where your pub is.