Friday, October 31, 2008

The Hobo Code

Welcome to the Great Depression done up all 2008 style.

In times of economic strife, marketing budgets are the first things that get cut.

The soft things -- things like building a company's brand -- get pushed to the back burner. Downward spiralling marketing budgets somehow reduce a company's appetite for the fun things in life, like paying a million bucks to watch a chimp bang a drum for E-Trade.

In publically held companies like mine, that means that showing a profit often means shaving the workforce. It's everyone's favourite way to show fiscal responsibility.

So, there were layoffs at the agency yesterday.

Ten people from different departments were let go. Two came from our group.

It's a surreal, sickening experience.

When 10 people are let go, it needs to be a well-timed exercise. And the HR gurus and the lawyers always reccomend that those on the receiving end of layoffs be "walked". They're afraid of corporate espionage.

So the shocked and disappointed workers are escorted out of the building like criminals.

But that's not even the worst part.

The Prez -- who's about as popular around here as George W., and has unleashed about as much carnage -- called a staff meeting in the middle of it all...before our people had even been told.

And then he did something even worse, he read out of the name of someone from another department who had lost his job. A gentle, wonderful soul.

Thing is, this friend from another department hadn't been told yet, either. He was on holiday. He found out that he was fired when his friends started text messaging him with the message, "Sorry to hear, Dude."

"Sorry for what," he said.

And that's how he heard.

Back in the days of The Great Depression, hobos developed a system of symbols -- often marked in chalk or coal -- that would provide information and warnings to other hobos.

A cat indicated that a kind lady lives here. A square missing its top line indicated that it was safe to camp in this location.

A box with a dot in the middle meant: danger, brutal man.

If I had any guts, I'd go mark the area outside the President's office.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Here's one for my gratitude list

I had a meeting with M, a Planned Giving officer at a major children's hospital, yesterday.

He spends his days talking to donors about leaving a gift to his charity in their wills It's not a job for everybody.

What makes him uniquely qualified to do this job is his personal situation.

He and his wife had a child with a rare genetic condition. She was treated at the hospital. Sadly, she passed away at only 7 months old.

Before he started fundraising for the hospital, M was a six figure executive in the auto industry.

Today he's devoted his life to honouring his daughter's.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

And now for something no one's talking about: the economy

Okay, if I see one more picture of a broker with his head in his hands looking at the crashing stock market, I think I'm going to scream.

Can't they think of another stock image to show us that our retirement savings are entirely depleted? I know, how about a box of sad looking kittens? Or that scene from Jaws where the shark leaps up on the boat?

Like most people, I've been caught up in the tornado swirl of bad news and have been examining that little thing called: discretionary spending. Starbucks. Restaurant meals. The magazine I become engrossed in in the check out line.

No thanks, I think I'll pass. I'm Amish.

I read somewhere that one of the great early indicators of a declining economy is the rise in lipstick sales.


Well, it would seem that women, when unhappy, like to buy themselves something pretty. And when Manolo's are out of the question, a $10 tube of lipstick tends to do the trick.

Ten bucks you can justify.

Stock market tip #1: invest in L'Oreal.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

S.A.D.: AKA, it's only October and already I'm sick of winter

I don't think I'm ready for winter.

I'm trying really hard. I even bought a couple of coats on the weekend to prove it.

But not even fashion can keep the screaming meanies from the door. The shiver-me-timbers weather is getting me down.

You wouldn't expect this kind of reaction from a northern girl.

We're bread for ski-doo suits and muk-luks. Our childhood included at least half a dozen snow days every year. We're the last person you'd find with our tongues stuck to a frozen slide.

But I admit it.

I'm powerless over winter.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Counter Attack

It's in and it looks beautiful!

My Uruguayan friend -- whose partner lovingly calls "the slowest man on earth" -- slowly and painstakingly installed my new countertop yesterday.

There was the odd epithet decrying the Madonna, but all in all, it went seamlessly.

The spiffy new faux black slate laminate replaces the ugly, stained off-white, looks- like-it's-always-dirty laminate.

The result is pretty spectacular.

I can't stop wiping it off. Or looking at it under various lighting conditions.

Isn't it funny how we live with disagreeable things for so long, when a simple fix can make all the difference in the world?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Air Canada talks turkey to vegetarian

As I mentioned in a previous post, my flight from Hong Kong was punctuated by the unfortunate delivery of a turkey sandwich to replace the vegetarian meal that I'd ordered.

And, as you probably know, eating is about all you have to look forward to on these long haul flights.

You could easily watch 8 movies during this 16 hour flight -- and God knows you need the diversion to detract your attention away from the embolism that is forming thanks to your 2 inches of personal seat space.

During the second meal service, the flight crew accidentally delivered my lilliputian-sized veggie sandwich to another person.


Accidents happen.

But here's the thing -- I wasn't even that fussed about it. I wasn't actually that hungry, and I knew there were easily two more meals to follow it.

I was sadder that I now had 8 more minutes of flying time to fill.

But it was the way they handled the mistake that made me bristle.

If only the offending flight attendant had owned up to it. If only she'd said, "Hey, this is what we did...and here's what we're doing to fix it," I would have been fine.

But attitude is everything...and the offending deliverer wasn't remotely sorry. Not even close.

She treated me like it was my fault. And she was rude.

It took another member of the flight crew to find me a small waldorf salad and a packet of cookies. Not exactly balanced nutrition, but the best they could do.

I'm normally not much of a formal complainer, but I took the initiative to write to Air Canada about it when I returned.

I told them that my Dad worked for Air Canada for 37 years and that I was actually flying on a reward ticket -- so clearly I bore no grudge toward the airline.

I told them what happened. And I told it without malice.

And you know what happened?

I got a really nice letter of apology from Air Canada, and 1,500 Aeroplan Points!


So there. Saying my peace really worked.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

And then what?

While I was away, one of my high school friend's lost a family member. He died of a heart attack at just 51 years of age.

As Jack Kornfield says, "The trouble is, you think you have time."

All that planning for the future...when the only thing we really have is today.

Choose happiness. Choose serenity. Don't sweat the small stuff. Because you never know.

Life is short. Eat dessert first.

Staying in tune with this fact helps keep me focussed on the things that matter, without getting too caught up on the things that don't.

And God knows there are lots of things that don't.

I'm lucky. I spend more than 50% of my time on not-for-profit clients. I genuinely love my job. But traveling in Asia has reminded me of how much I enjoy living abroad and how happy I am when I'm working full-time for a cause I believe in.

"When I leave here," Don Draper said on Mad Men, when he was been lured by a competitive firm, "it won't be for more advertising."

I know how he feels.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It's 4:30 a.m., what's for dinner?

I am Queen of the Jet Lag this week. At the mercy of the 12 hour time difference.

I crawled into the bath tub with my book about 7 p.m. last night and woke up as the pages were going under. Thank God for the quick save.

A recent study in hamsters showed that sildenafil (known commercially as Viagra) aided in a 50% faster recovery from shifts comparable to eastward travel experienced by humans and was effective starting at low doses.However, this use has not been tested in humans and is considered an off-label use by the drug's manufacturers.

I'm holding off on the Viagra for a bit.

I eked out an extra half hour of sleep from yesterday, though, so I figure I'll be sleeping through the night by the weekend.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vacation Memories

Favourite product spotted on vacation: Hello Kitty skin whitening cream.

Things that make you go "Huh?": The proliferation of teeth whitening salons in Bangkok catering to foreigners. Also, the advertisement on the front page of The Bangkok Times offering breast enhancement (about $1,000) and a sex change operation (about $1,600). Or you could probably get a deal if you do both.

Favourite Beach: It would have to be Koh Hong beach. On a deserted island, off the coast of Krabi. Deserted until the Indian film crew showed up to shoot a Bollywood dance number. I feel absolutely blessed to have been there!

Favourite new fruit: Dragon fruit. I don't know how I ever missed this, since I lived in Japan for two years, but dragon fruit really rocks my world. It's red and bumpy on the outside (like an artichoke gone bad) but inside the flesh is white, with edible seeds. It takes a litle like a kiwi. Delicious.

Favourite airline: Thai airlines. Thai and Singapore Airlines regularly battle it out for the world's best airline, and you can see why. During our two and a half hour flight from Krabi to Bangkok, we had more inflight service than our 16 hour Air Canada flight from Hong Kong to Toronto. Not to mention, the food on Thai was spectacular -- while Air Canada accidentally gave away my vegetarian meal and tried to slip me a turkey sandwich.

Best book read on vacation: The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux -- a stereotype-shattering novel about the experience of American travelers in India. I bought it in a book store in Bangkok after finishing the other three novels I'd brought with me, and what a page-turner!

Favourite purchase: A dress for this year's CMA Awards. For years I've admired the work of Japanese designer, Issey Miyake but balked at the price tag. His work easily commands thousands of dollars. Trust the good people of Bangkok to have knocked off the design...but at a greatly reduced price. It's now the most fashion forward number in my closet.

Most over-used Thai word: Ka. If they eliminated this word from spoken Thai, no one would say anything.

Favourite new royal family: the King and Queen of Thailand. Their picture is everywhere. If you haven't seen it, you haven't been to Thailand.

Where to next?
Bhutan. Nepal. Tibet. All on the hot list.

Monday, October 20, 2008

12 hour time difference

It isn't possible to feel any dumber, after my nearly 30 hours in transit yesterday. This morning I put a load of laundry in and realized, only after it was done, that I'd put a feather pillow in the wash.

I think I just figured out why the people on the Amazing Race make dumb decisions after they've been traveling for awhile.

Update is coming. But only after I've had more sleep

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Just another day for you and me in Paradise

I can't get that Phil Collins song out of my head.

Every morning I wake up to brilliant blue sunshine, look out at the ocean and hear the words, "Just another day for you and me in Paradise."

I suppose there are worse songs to have in your head.

One of them would be Celine's "My Heart will Go On," which was what was playing on the radio before we got on our boat to Ko Phi Phi island yesterday.

Just a note to boat operators everywhere...probably not a good idea to play the theme song from the Titanic before engaging in any kind of seafaring activity. It's a little like showing Castaway or Airport '99 on a plane.

Happily there was no capsizing -- no icebergs for thousands of miles. Just more incredible Thai scenery. Heaven on earth, folks.

We visited the incredible palm tree dotted white sandy beach where they filmed The Beach. Bad movie, but possibly the best beach ever.

And we snorkelled in some incredible coral reefs, where the fish were plentiful and friendly...attracted, perhaps, by the small pieces of watermelon that our boat operators were throwing over the side of the boat. Who knew fish liked watermelon?


This afternoon we're booked for a Thai cooking course.

We spent the first part of the afternoon learning, and the second part doing and eating. Sounds like a good deal.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hello from Paradise

I've been in some beautiful spots over the years, but I don't think I've ever been anywhere more beautiful than where I am right now.

We arrived last night, so I woke up this morning to the bluest sky I've ever seen and a view of a series of small, offshore islands dotting the horizon. All from our tiny veranda.

Our hotel is spectacular.

It's the last place on a mostly deserted stretch of white sandy beach on Tub Kaek Beach, about 40 minutes from Krabi.

Because it's technically the rainy season and a few governments have issued travel warnings about Thailand, the resort is operating at less than half of capacity.

The normally attentive Thai staff are even more attentive, if that's possible. All I need to do is raise my eyes from my book for half a second, and someone descends on me with an icy jasmine-scented towel, a jug of ice water or a fresh fruit plate.

Life is good.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Best day ever!

Yesterday is one of those days that I hope will flash in front of my eyes when I die. I would certainly welcome the chance to re-live it again and again.

Here's what I did yesterday:

Drove into the mountainous region surrounding Chiang Mai. Incredibly beautiful.

Met the 34 rescued elephants that live at the sanctuary and heard their stories. They are heartbreaking -- injured by landmines, blinded, abused.

Each elephant has been brought back from the brink of death by the care and love of an amazing spitfire of a woman who they call "Lek". It means "small" in Thai.

Today the elephants are thriving...and Lek is an international advocate for animal rights.

I got to feed the elephants, walk beside them as they went down to the river, and get into the river beside them and scrub their backs as they rolled around.

Read this last sentence over again. What more can I say?

Oh ya...and I played with a baby elephant. If I wasn't me...I'd want to be me. to the beaches.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Going Steady

Thailand and I are so in love. i think I want to marry it.


The entire country is full of smiley, happy people.

Smiling seems to be the national pasttime. I'm even smiling while writing this.

Don't have much time to post as I'm about to head off to an elephant sancturary where they rescue abused and orphaned elephants.

These are elephants who have been used for logging or who have been injured by poachers. The volunteers there give them a safe and happy place to live out their days.

Our friends in Bangkok told us about it. This sanctuary has been featured on the National Geographic channel.

Apparently we get to observe them (the elephants, not our friends) in their natural habitat, feed them their dinner, and even help wash them during bath time.

This is about as close to nirvana as I think I can get in this lifetime.

I'm thinking the elephants are going to freak when I pull out the 6 or 7 moves I still remember from Thriller!

Friday, October 3, 2008

I'm dancing as fast as I can!

Michael Jackson is a crazy mo-fo, but that boy can dance!

Here are some of the lessons learned during our Thriller dance off yesterday.

1) If you want the boys in the department to participate, hire a female teacher with a smoking hot body. Not only will they dance, they'll dance in the front line.

2) Doing something really hard and making it look easy (cue life lesson here) is a skill worth mastering.

3) While I was eating Wagon Wheels and watching 7 hours of TV a day in grade 7, I should have been taking dance lessons.

4) A few people got really hung up on how well they were doing, thinking that everyone was watching and critiquing their performance. Another big life lesson here -- you're not that important! Everyone else was too busy trying to learn their own routine to care!

5) You never know who can pull a butt shimmy out of their back pocket and blow you away.

6) The world needs more 80s music.

7) Physical activity is the best stress reliever there is. I slept like a baby last night.


I'm off on vacay, starting tomorrow, and will have limited access to the internet. I'll try to post periodically, to give you a taste of Thailand. Peace out.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Probably because I lack the dexterity to look away fast enough, I ending up on the planning committee for the office off-site.

The job of sourcing a venue and a secret team building activity fell to me.

Anyone whose been employed for longer than ten minutes has probably been to one of these.

Most of us don't just watch The Office, we live it.

In the past, you may have trustingly fallen backwards into the supportive arms of your co-workers. You might know that you're an ENFP. Or you may have learned how to take off your analytical hat and put on your creative hat.

Well, after tomorrow, my co-workers will have learned a a new skill to rival any of these.

Because you put me in charge, we're learning something we can really use.

I've hired a dance instructor and we're learning the Thriller dance.

There's actually some method in my madness. Bringing a group of people together -- especially a group with wildly divergent talents and skill sets -- is a bit of a dance to begin with.

Learning Thriller is a way to work as a team toward a common goal.

The strong will help the weak along. The "managers" will realize that the real talent lies in the corp. And we'll have fun and laugh like hyenas the whole time.

God I wish Barb was going to be here for this.

Anyway, I'll let you know how it goes.