Department Outing

I believe I have mentioned that my Awesome Employer sets aside budget money each year for every department to have a group outing. They always involve food and generally involve an activity of some kind. This year, Lisa suggested Cook Cork & Fork, a place in Palatine that teaches groups to cook and then everyone stuffs their faces.

Groups are offered a variety of seasonal menus.  Since Lisa and I are the pickiest eaters, process of elimination led us to the Italian menu.  Chicken Marsala, herb risotto, grilled vegetables, and tiramisu.

I have been to several places that do cooking classes – which is weird since I really do not cook at home – and the difference with this place was that there was no Front of the Room Demo.  We were split into groups and told what to do.   I snagged the tiramisu.  It was a job so easy was like the first time I saw guacamole made table-side.  That’s all there is to it?  And they charge what?  The most difficult thing is blending the mascarpone and cream just until it is smooth, because if you over blend, it will curdle.  And that would suck.  But it was so easy and people make such a big deal out of it.  The lady fingers are dipped into a mixture of espresso and Kahlua and then you layer it up and put it in the refrigerator.


Then I went to watch the rest of my group.  They had finished their prep and were on to cooking up the dishes.


I somehow missed taking pictures of the final products.  Except for my tiramisu.


There was plenty of what I call Adult Supervision and everything turned out great.  In addition to group events, Cook Cork & Fork has regularly scheduled events for individuals or small groups.  They are located in Palatine and I can happily recommend them to grown ups in the Northwest suburbs looking for something to do together.


Volunteer Gig: Feed My Starving Children

It’s called Feed My Starving Children, which is a bit of a turnoff for me (Note:  Not sure if it is the word “my” or the word “starving”.  Wouldn’t “Feed the Children” have been enough?). But my co-workers like it a lot so when there a group volunteer session was scheduled at the office this week, I signed up.

FMSC organizes volunteers to package meals – specially formulated for maximum nutrition – to partners around the world who distribute them to children who are literally starving. There is a location right near my office and volunteers are organized every day in two hour shifts. Food is scooped into the bags, weighed, sealed, boxed and labeled for shipment. The meals we packaged were rice-based with soy protein and added vegetables and vitamins. It looked like your average pre-packed rice dishes from the grocery store.

It starts with a video of what we were going to do and why. The instructions are simple and clear and there are cheat sheets at the tables. Then we were sent to wash hands before starting.

Everyone sort of gets into a rhythm and it is funny because someone will eventually need to change jobs. For example, my hands cramped with the cups that scoop the soy and rice. Then everyone switches places and the rhythm is all messed up. But there were lots of laughs and music playing and the staff is really efficient, which is great.

We had a group of kids on the shift with us. Many of them had been there before and were excited to contribute, which is always nice to see. When Time is called, there are specific instructions for cleanup, which goes very quickly. Then there is a closing video and optional prayer circle. I don’t go for prayer circles so I went browsing in their gift shop, which is filled with handmade free trade items from the countries FMSC serves.

Best part:FMSC Impacr 7 2015

The session’s impact report.  I’d do it again.

First Contact

Not long ago one of my people came in to my office to talk about her recruiting project.  She was starting to schedule interviews, but two of the five people she contacted hadn’t emailed her back.   Someone in her department suggested sending a follow up text.

I had an immediate, negative response.  After that, I wondered if I was being old school.

I am as flexible with the rules as any HR person can manage while still breathing, but in certain matters of etiquette I am complete snob.  For example, when I post a job on LinkedIn, I find a huge number of candidates will “Apply” without including a resumé or cover note.  “Why can’t you just go to the LinkedIn profile?”  I can.   For 14 seconds, which is more effort than the candidates put into the “application”.  And as a practical matter, that makes it really difficult to sort candidates for the hiring managers to review.  I understand this might be a losing battle.

So I asked myself why texting a candidate made me feel so icky.  I came up with the following:

  1. I refuse to write incomplete sentences to a stranger.  It is unprofessional.
  2. As the candidate would not recognize my cell phone number, I would have to open with my full name and my employer’s name before even getting to the point.  I realize a text isn’t limited to 140 characters, but seriously.
  3. It is theoretically possible that the candidate has a limit of some kind on receiving texts.  Thus texting a stranger is presumptuous.

I asked around my office, beginning with some of my youngest people.  I asked my people on Facebook.  And I started to feel more validated.  Then, I grew really bold and started asking job candidates the question during their interviews.  Hey – straight to the source, right?

My conclusion is this: we should be communicating with candidates in a way that is most comfortable for them.  If that turns out to be texting, then Fine.  But the only way to answer that question is by asking the candidate directly.  First Contact should not be done by Text.


The national conference for the Society of Human Resource Management was last week.  Thirteen thousand HR types descended on Orlando for a few days of education, bonding and booze.  Because that’s what conferences are for.  That and the recertification credits.

Not all HR people like this conference.  Some think it is just too big.  Too big to network and too expensive to be practical.  I love it, and I am extremely grateful to my awesome employer for continuing to send me.  Truth be told, I don’t do enough networking.  I jam in as many sessions as possible, have dinner with a colleague and then fall into bed exhausted. I can’t imagine anything more boring than having to listen to someone talk about all the great stuff she learned at a conference, but there are a few things I want to note, for myself, for future reference:

First, Cy Wakeman.  The author of Reality Based Leadership, which I have not yet read, did a great session on the theme of Ditching the Drama.  Which, hello.  I need to keep top of mind.  There were two thoughts so poignant that I tweeted them.

Stop judging, start helping.

Sooooo hard to stop judging.  But I am working on it.  The “start helping” makes it a better mantra.  At the same time, my job makes me a sort of professional coach and I have to balance the validation of feelings with the Reality.  “Stop judging, start helping” is a phrase I might be able to adopt.

Would you rather be right or be happy?

If my damage as a human being could be summed up in one line, that might be it.  I should have this tattooed on my wrist.

It’s not that I make a ton of poor decisions.  I am a completely functional person and I don’t create a whole lot of drama myself.  I absolutely get impatient, but I don’t look for things to get upset about – particularly at work.  However.  I am very easily sucked into other people’s drama and if my head is not in the game I am liable to express every feeling that I have right in the moment I am having it.  Bad form.

Another thing about conferences is the BOOKS.  I read Social Gravity, by Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen.  The piece of advice they gave that resonated with me was to start answering those phone calls that I don’t want to answer.  Start taking the meetings.  It is not a crime to try to sell something, and sometimes those calls turn into contacts and those contacts turn into relationships.  Investing some more time isn’t going to kill me.

Then I came home, filed my application to renew my certification, and got back to work.  I remember seeing a statistic once about how very little is retained from the average training/development session.  Maybe blogging it will help this year.


Compared to most women over on Twitter right now, I have exceptionally little to complain about.   I have never been raped.  I don’t walk around with any serious fear for my physical safety.  I had kind of chalked it up to the fact that I was never all that pretty.  Guys only assault pretty girls, right?  (Rolls eyes at self.)

Even in college, at my absolute most attractive, I was more charming than pretty.  This weekend, Twitter has taught me that I have been lucky, because “charming” could very easily be mistaken for overt flirting which, it seems, can be taken as an open invitation to sexual assault.  But that isn’t what I want to tell you.  I want to tell you two stories – from work – that illustrate the extent to which I have adapted to male bullshit regarding women.

First.  It will surprise no one that in my seventeen years working in Human Resources, I have investigated one or two sexual harassment complaints.  I am happy to say that they have generally been matters of cluelessness rather than malicious intent and the “accused” have generally been genuinely sorry to have made someone uncomfortable and wanted to apologize more than anything else.  One case in particular struck me because I worked rather closely with the “accused”.  I was asked whether I ever felt like the guy was talking to my breasts.  I hadn’t noticed.  I’ve had people staring at my chest since I was 10 years old.  I stopped noticing sometime in high school.  I never once gave an “Eyes up here” or made a complaint or even offered a knowing glare.  I didn’t make a conscious decision to ignore that behavior as a general practice but, hell.   I don’t have the time or the energy to get upset about that stuff, let alone confront it all the time.  So I block it out.

I am not proud of this.  It is just how I have operated.  I am a bit ashamed, now that I am typing it out loud, that with my general confidence and competence and ability to confront people that I have been too lazy or weak to do so.  But there it is.

The second one is worse.  A few years ago a young lady in my own department told me that she had a troubling experience when she went to speak at a conference.  The weather had been bad and she’d gone to the bar to watch a game and get a burger for dinner.  Harassing experience ensues.  She wasn’t physically threatened, but felt way uncomfortable and the dude was, by extension, a client.  My first reaction, God forgive me, was “I wouldn’t have gone to the bar by myself to watch a game and have dinner.”


How m-f brainwashed am I that the thought even entered my head.  How brainwashed am I that I wouldn’t even consider watching a game by myself in a bar on the road over dinner?  I sit in bars by myself when I am waiting for people.  I eat dinner in restaurants by myself all the damn time.  I have stopped in front of random televisions in a thousand public places, by myself, to watch some sportsball item or another.  I have gone to sporting events by myself.

This isn’t even a conscious decision.  This is an “it would just never occur to me”.  Is it some great hardship?  No.  At the same time, it is only happening because I am female.

So.  Yeah, yeah.  Less than a First World Problem.  But if you are asking the question, “Really?  All women have been affected by a male culture of sexual dominance/violence/intimidation in this country?”

Yes.  We all have.


P.S.  I sorta want to delete that last post about guys in bars.  But I’m not going to.

At the Bar

To begin at the beginning my boss, G,  and I were at a conference in Boston last Spring.  One night, we went to dinner with some colleagues from our member companies and someone that was not me thought it would be cool to have a beer at the Cheers bar , which I swear used to be called something else.  There were about eight women along with G,  and a guy from Alabama that I will call..Alabama.

We were sitting around the corner of the bar and I was at the end, pretending to drink a beer, which I never do.  And a couple of drunk Virginians on their way back from Fenway sat down next to me.  I know they were drunk Virginians on their way back from Fenway because they told me that  a) they were from Virginia; b) they had just come from Fenway of them was breathing on me.  Dude asked me twice if he could buy me a drink.

Now, I am not used to having drunk guys..breathing on me, because I am not Jennifer Aniston and because my Single Girl Stare of Death is extremely effective.  But I was with people!  I hadn’t charged it up!   I glanced over at G a couple of times, but he was oblivious to my plight.  So the end of the conversation went like this:

Dude #1:    Where are you from?

Me:               Chicago

Dude #1:      Chicago is great.  Can you guess where I’m from?

Me:                Virginia.

Dude #1:       Whoa!  How did you know that?!

Me:                 Because you told me five minutes ago.

Dude #1:        (turns redder)

Dude #2:        (falls off his chair laughing)  (literally)

When I say “literally”, I mean Literally and not Figuratively.  They finally left and my group left shortly thereafter.  I was trying to decide just how much shit to give G for leaving me all stranded when Alabama started laughing at me.  He had watched the entire thing and thought it was hilarious.  My head exploded.  (Figuratively).  He said that I obviously hadn’t needed help and he swore up and down that he would have jumped in if it had gotten ugly.  By then, the Single Girl Stare of Death was ready, but it was too dark outside for anyone to see it.

Fast forward to last weekend.  I was waiting for John in the bar next to his theatre when a..much older gentleman struck up a conversation.  Because he was guard was down and I chatted a bit and the next thing I know he was..breathing on me and my Single Girl Stare of Death was totally not charged!  I got out of it somehow, which led me to tell John the story about Alabama in the Cheers bar.

The next morning, I flew out to the next conference and my first..assignment was to meet G and Alabama.  At the bar.  Here’s how it went:

Me:               I was talking about you last night.

Alabama:    Great.  What about?

Me:               About how I thought you were my friend until you let a couple of drunk Virginians breathe on me at the Cheers bar in Boston.

Alabama:     (laughing)  That was funny.

Me:                Not funny!  Mean!

Alabama:     Slightly mean.  And really funny.  But anyway, what was I supposed to do?

Me:                You were supposed to walk over, stand next to me, look at the guy and say, “She’s with me.”

Alabama:      (does a double take)  What am I supposed to say, that I’m your father?!

Me:                Wait, what?!  No!

Alabama:      Am I supposed to say that you’re my girlfriend?

Me:                No!  You just say “She’s with me”.  (turns to G)  Is that not the universally semi-polite way to tell a guy to back off of a girl?

G:                   Yes.

Alabama:      Ok, ok.  Lemme get this straight.  Any time we are together and some guy comes over and hits on you, I am supposed to step in and say, “She’s with me”?

Me:                 Yes.

Alabama:       (…)

Alabama:       I can do that.  But I’m tellinya right now – next time it is going to be the love of your life and you’re gonna be sorry.

As an aside, I clarified with G that if it happened to be Brian Urlacher that hit on me, that he was to stop any Alabama intervention.  G agreed.

You may all consider this a public service announcement.

Department Outing

It is not news that my employer freakin’ rocks.  That’s why I work there.  Small perk:  each year every department has a budget to do a group outing.  Most departments just do a long lunch somewhere, but my people – most of us, anyway – want to do something.  A couple of years ago, we went to Gameworks.  When one person left right after we ate, and another pocketed the game card to give to the grandchildren, we were pretty disappointed.  So.

Where do you go when most people want to do something, but others just want to eat?  My friend and colleague remembered her kid once going to a party at Morkes Chocolate in Palatine.  It was very easily within the budget and I voted Yes.

When you walk in the door, it looks like a better than average chocolate store.  Then they have the party room in the back.  Where we found a table full of these:



We were each asked if we preferred milk or dark chocolate.  When I am eating it straight up, I prefer milk chocolate.  But something told me that with all of this sugar, I’d better go dark.  We were all sort of staring in awe at our trays, and when the staff came back with our fondue cups, one remarked, “This is the quietest group I have ever had.”  Because we aren’t six.  And we didn’t have any sugar in us yet.   According to my phone, it took about thirty minutes to turn that tray into this:



I texted this pic to my mother, Kay, who told me to leave it at the office.

I am pretty sure dark chocolate was the correct decision.  It was funny watching how each person attacked the project.  I was going for neatness.  Not because I am particularly neat or even artistic.  I just didn’t want to embarrass myself by making a mess.  Also, in the great scheme of eating chocolate covered things, I like to know what I am eating.  So I didn’t fully coat anything.  My boss went for efficiency and was finished first.  In hindsight, he said that his method made for some really thick chocolate.  The best of us was C, who said she had experience from working in a doughnut shop.  Awesome.  Next up was truffle making.  We started with empty shells:


Then filled them with..truffle filling and topped them with..stuff.  I picked peanuts and sprinkles:


Because a few of our group stayed behind for last-minute-work purposes, we took their trays and made boxes for them.  Well.  I didn’t, because I was too slow.  But someone did.  And then we had pizza.  I ate my chocolate covered pineapples and banana and one of the sponge cakes.  The fruit was better.  Then I packed up the rest.

Two of us left nearly full boxes in the lunchroom for our very appreciative colleagues.  I brought mine home so as to keep the strawberries and caramels and make my mother take the rest to her office.

Win.  Win.  Win.  And I am totally taking the nephew here sometime.