Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Taxi and train rides away from the countryside, we emerged from the subway, my colleague and I, into Paris.

"Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame?" he had asked as we set off and I selected the latter without hesitation.

"I'll probably let you go independently though," I decided, casting a rueful glance at two bags filled with all my belongings. As convenient as Paris was, located on the way to the airport for my evening flight, I'll admit to wishing away my carefully packed and purposely 'as light as possible but still not light' luggage.

"Wait," I said as he headed for the open door before us. "Don't we have to pay? You can't just go in," I whispered urgently. But I blinked and followed when he did, sending a careful glance at the employee holding the door ajar. And then I stopped speaking. Not simply because the signs demanded it or respect was due, but because what is there to articulate when you're in the presence of such faith and grace and beauty?

Where candles flicker in the periphery as the eye drifts up. Where I sat and stared and felt peaceful and powerful all at once.

And that's the glory of Paris for me. Surrounded by unimpressive suburbs littered liberally with graffiti, there is this - this structure - that's simply staggering.

Even the ground - what I believe to be black and white marble - felt somehow soft under my shoes when I stepped off the carpet to steady my hand enough to take a photo. As if the very floor strove to be gentle and steady in such a place.

I emerged quietly, the only disruption to my experience the ringing of my mobile which had accidentally powered up in my backpack. I glared at it bitterly, resenting the intrusion before realizing work had offered me entry to Paris - both times - and forgiving my caller his ill timing.

I walked until I ached. Until even the sunshine sparkling on the Seine and contrast of bright blue in the sky contrasting with the elegance of Île de la Cité was not enough to mitigate my misery.

Drawn toward a flashing sign displaying a green cross, I obtained much-needed cough drops before deciding to stop at a cafe for a drink. Water required no deliberation, but vacillating between champagne and fruit juice exhausted me.

After the waiter departed though, I relaxed into my chair and watched the people and the place until my drinks were gone and money taken and clock ticking steadily toward evening.

Restored enough to carry on, I returned to my role as a pack mule and trudged across the street and down the stairs to the RER. I stood in line behind an elderly French woman unconcerned with the 10 people behind her as she argued with the ticket clerk endlessly. I rode a train, feeling like the 25th crayon crammed into an already-full box of 24. And I arrived at CDG and found a lovely place to sit just as two other flights were boarding and worked through some email until my battery died.

Then I read, removing the same iPad that had graced the table next to my water and cocktail on the streets of Paris, and feeling as eager for my next destination as I was pleased with my last.

I arrived safely and happily at BLQ and checked into a delightful hotel. But I can tell you about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pieces of Patterns

"Help me understand this," I stated, leaning forward with eyes squinted in as much concentration as my sleepy brain would allow.

And so he launched into another lecture and while I was charmed at how professorial he seemed - with the waving of arms and pointing at equations - I still wasn't understanding his request. "It's simple," he concluded forcefully and I sat back.

"I..." Letting my voice trail off, I glanced at the group around me. "I'm sorry if this is simple, but I'm trying pretty hard here and I'm not sure I understand." After which everyone admitted confusion and we tried (and failed) once again.

So I defined a plan and actions and owners and we decided to talk again in a week.

"How did you do that?" she asked and I raised my eyebrow in inquiry. "Not give him what he wanted without him getting mad," a younger colleague clarified.

"Practice?" I guessed, not completely sure. "I have to reject people at times and it's been everything from fabulous to catastrophic. So I've learned what works and how to listen and ways to encourage people to at least understand the decisions and how they're made so they have more influence the next time they need something."

Somehow despite the myriad of accents and the melodic babble of French I don't understand, the patterns and rhythms seem remarkably similar. There is often a sense of comfortable predictability even in novel environs.

Yet there are, of course, moments where I feel half a world away from the everyday routine. Where time is measured by television shows and dinner is picked up as I drag myself home from work to cuddle Chienne and smooth Sprout's coat and amuse myself until it's time to snuggle into bed.

The mattress is harder here - the headboard prettier. The television only speaks French I don't understand so I spend time catching up on work and reading and looking at recent photos. While my cat and dog are doing well without me, I do miss the clatter of paws on the tile floor or the warm cuddle of Chienne behind my knees. And there's dinner - not alone, but with a dozen others - across the courtyard for which I'll be late if not for an immediate departure.

Monday, February 27, 2012


For reasons we needn't discuss, I have a pair of crotchless tights. I always end up traveling with them - the rolled eyes warring with the need for enough tights for 2 weeks until they end up nestled in a bag.

One would think (or at least I would) that it matters not whether tights have that particular scrap of material, especially when one wears panties.

So after a working breakfast, I pounced on my break-time opportunity to wander around the countryside in Île-de-France in my pretty striped dress and shiny black flats and admittedly-crotchless tights. They're my favorite brand in the correct size and so it all should have been fine - the walk, the meetings, the dining out.

It was not fine.

I was wandering along, breathing the air, seeing the sights, thinking 'who's in France? Katie is! Katie is!' when I noticed my tights were falling down a bit. 'No matter,' I thought good-naturedly and glanced around before tugging them back into place.

Apparently that middle part offers some vital structural integrity because I continued to blush and tug and mutter with increasing annoyance at the garment.

"I am not slutty," I told them in an angry whisper after I paused at a bus stop - charming as it was being wooden-framed and near a wall dripping with ivy - to yank at them once more. "Well," I considered, wanting to be honest, "not at the moment, anyway."

And after those wondrous displays of intelligence, maturity and grace, I returned to lead a meeting and attend 3 more. I asked questions and offered advice and networked with people I sincerely enjoy.

Between trips to the restroom to readjust my hosiery.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Letter F

I parked under a sign at PIA - a white F on blue background attached to a tall pole in a sea of cars. Then I decided that the first day of the trip was brought to you by the letter F, a la Sesame Street, as a memory tool.

I sighed as I rode the shuttle I'd jogged to catch, remembering the carpet in my grandparents' house as I watched puppets and people, learning to share and listen and count to 6 in Spanish! How far we come, I decided, still a bit in awe that Smallest One had worked with Little One to learn all the presidents in order. I don't know all the presidents in order, but my 4 year old niece can rattle them off by way of a song. They're getting so big - changing so much - and I barely got to cuddle them before I was off to the airport, leaving Chienne in their father's hands.

Fiddle: To Mess With
I'm staying in Europe for nearly 2 weeks. I brought an overnight bag and a backpack full of electronics. That's it. Which meant I was organized to the nth degree - every single item strategically placed.

"We're going to rerun this," the agent noted of my pretty bag and I nodded, stepping off to the side to wait. And then he unpacked it. And ran it again.

"We thought we saw a pocket knife," he indicated and I graciously offered that I don't own one while I frowned over his repacking of my things, now shuffled all to hell.

He was perfectly polite and just doing his job, so I thanked him and went on my way, finding a quiet spot in the remodeled airport to repack my items as per the clearly-defined plan.

And off I went, enjoying a lovely Delta flight that was nearly empty to a connecting airport. I changed money, had dinner and bought both batteries and a pen. (I'd forgotten both and noticed as I repacked.) And as the moments counted down to my flight to CDG, I prepared myself for the lengthy - though certainly not overly onerous - journey.

Fail: What Air France Did
The captain was careful to point out - first in French, then English - that the ground crew damaged the plane upon pushing us back from the gate. So our early arrival time ticked away until we were nearly 2 hours late departing.

The plane broke.
We needed a part.
Someone went to get the part.
Someone installed the part.
Someone tested the plane.
A passenger got very ill so the paramedics came and removed her. (Poor thing - she had a migraine that she mentioned as I boarded behind her. Must have been miserable.)
Then we refueled for safety reasons.
Then we drove all the hell over DTW's runways.
Upon arriving (late) in Paris, we drove all over their runways because nobody had a spot for us.
Then we took a bus ride - bonus points for knocking people over! - to the terminal.
Then we cleared immigration (delightfully easy - well done, France).
Then I found a cab, deliciously relieved that I'd soon be able to drop bags at my hotel and use my pre-purchased ticket to the Palace of Versailles!

Find?: What the taxi could not do...
In all fairness, I'm staying outside Paris. I've been told taxis are expensive to hoof it all the way out here and gave the nice driver the instructions colleagues had recommended.

"Colleague?" I said when I called about 90 minutes later, knowing we should have been there 40 minutes ago. "When you took the tunnel, do you remember turning left or right at the end of the first one?"

"There is no tunnel," he replied.

"There's nothing but tunnels!" I cried in despair. "We've been going in circles - mostly underground - for nearly an hour!"

It took another hour and three phone calls to reach my destination. And when I offered my tale of woe, the nice receptionist gave me a balcony of my very own as part of a junior suite upgrade.

Deciding I was likely cursed despite my prayers through turbulence over the Atlantic, I came to my room, washed my face, put my hair in a twist and determinedly set off to use my pre-purchased ticket to see some fanciness at the Palace/Chateau.

And it is impressive. Massive in scale. Overwhelming in the ornate detail. And even with the statues covered in creepy/protective tarps, the gardens hinted at glory.

And because I offered a shorter version of my troubled travel, the guides let me linger as the time shifted closer to closing time. So I have photos of a nearly deserted Hall of Mirrors and got to gawk at the cathedral without being jostled.

Finally Finished
Day 1 tends to be rough on me. So I finished my tour and briefly wandered the city before finding a taxi - a local one this time - to deposit me back at the hotel. I've showered, put on the single pair of pajamas I brought and finished looking at my pictures. And now I sleep. For tomorrow is another day and - if we're lucky - another letter!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Kindness of Strangers (& Stupidity of Neighbors)

"Do you know this dog?" the delivery woman asked after I'd greeted both of them on my porch before scrawling a signature on the pad.

"There's a puppy down the street who's similar, but you're a bit more...distinguished," I decided, smoothing the grey on the dog's snout. "Where are you from, love?" I asked, noting the wagging of tail and friendly curiosity and lack of a collar.

"Should I call the shelter?" the girl asked and I frowned, thinking.

"No, I'll handle it," I offered and stood aside before inviting the strange dog inside.

"This is Chienne," I introduced my own wagging, curious pup. "She can't see." But she could hear, so she made her way over to the food dishes our guest was emptying. Once cat and dog kibble were gone, she sniffed around the floor, nibbling at the bits that Chienne scatters and leaves.

"Thanks," I offered with a rub of his/her head. (I don't look - I find it's impolite.) "I usually have to vacuum." So Strange Dog explored both basement and upstairs and ran circles around my main floor, frustrating poor Chienne to no end. I finally coaxed my hound next to me on the loveseat while looking up the number for our local humane society.

"I don't know what to do," I confessed. "We took a walk in search of home. Nobody was looking. And I don't know this dog." Feeling miserably guilty, I gave my address and waited for someone to come fetch Strange Dog.

"I'm sorry," I whispered and smiled sadly and tossed the tennis ball our guest had found.

Strange Dog ran from the woman who came for her, struggling in the leash she slipped on and beginning to drool in distress. My eyes filled with tears as I went to get the check so I could make a donation.

"They'll take care of you," I promised through tears and closed the door so I couldn't torture myself by watching them leave.

"I sent a dog to the pound," I confessed to my father moments later by phone. "I'm a terrible person."

"I am not watching another animal while you go to some foreign country," he replied. "You can't keep another dog - you did the right thing." When I continued to sigh shakily, he offered me Mom.

"I'm sorry," she soothed, more sympathetic, and told me stories about walks on beaches and collecting shells and befriending a pelican who lived near their rented house. "Think positive! The family will come home and find the dog gone and go to the shelter. Until then, it's in a safe, warm place."

"But I sent a dog to the pound," I cried. "I feel terrible." And I thought about that dog - nails clipped, well-mannered, obviously loved - all night and into the next morning.

"Ready?" I asked Chienne and she pranced to the door in preparation for our morning walk. "Careful," I warned her against tripping when I nudged the plastic ball out of the sidewalk and into the neighbor's perfectly-manicured yard.

Friend sometimes makes fun of me when I would pause and think my very hardest to puzzle together details. It's like when I'm looking for the toothpaste and getting increasingly frustrated and then blinking in shock when it's been in some obvious place in plain sight all along.

"Oh, no," I said as the pieces fit together. And older, brown dog who barked when the delivery woman knocked - a bark I'd heard multiple times before. Her perfect manicure that matched her perfect yard. Her affection for a tennis ball when her beloved plastic one rested next door. Her refusal to get on furniture - exactly as she displayed when I visited for dinner last year. "Oh, no, no, no..."

Realizing it was too early to knock and ask about Neighbor Dog, we finished our walk - Chienne remarkably unconcerned with my debilitating guilt and stupidity.

"It was Neighbor Dog," I told Dad - for it's never really too early to call him. "I sent my neighbor's dog to the pound! What kind of person sends her neighbor's dog to the pound?!"

He immediately gave me to Mom.

"I'm surprised you didn't realize it was her," she offered gently.

"Well, she never runs away!" I said. "And I thought she belonged on the court, not on the main street! I'm a terrible person," I concluded glumly.

I repeated that when I went next door later in the day, greeting Neighbor Dog and my neighbors with relief.

"We think she's having trouble seeing," Neighbor said and I wondered if I should just slither home like a snake. "So she must have been confused."

"I'm so sorry," I repeated. "I didn't realize. I would have kept her. I'm a terrible neighbor."

But she was safe - wagging her tail and trotting out to her yard to potty, bright collar and silver tag shining brightly in the sunshine. So all's well that ends well.

I guess.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


How does one who is chronically single make Valentine's Day more fun?

I'm actually not sure, but I can tell you what made yesterday work for me.

  • Booked a hotel. In Venice. Where I'll holiday for a weekend in March. (!!!!!)
  • Made what could have been my biggest presentation in Industry. (And my voice only shook with nervousness a little!) While being projected on large screens globally from a local auditorium.
  • Started to plan Paris, elsewhere in Italy and UK travel. Again - so, SO excited about this. It's been far too long since I've flitted off to Europe.
  • Made a mental note to ask Jane where she teaches as I think I'll end up spending a day in the vicinity.
  • Changed into new, super-soft sleepy pants upon returning home. And a too-large shirt that doesn't match them. Because nobody was going to see them and I was just going to sleep. But I get to dream about professional goodness!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Soft Skills

"Hello," we said in unison and wearing our friendliest smiles. Adam complimented her outfit while I cocked my head slightly in order to be adorable. And we politely requested a favor, made some requisite promises and set off 2 minutes later, goal attained. He put his hand behind him, palm up, as he walked back to his desk and I grinned as I tapped it with my fingers.
In truth, we often share gestures of victory within my group - we have little real power so we resort to charm and owed favors and pity when necessary to achieve that moment's aim. And it comes naturally to me much of the time. Few people actively dislike me (and I just avoid them) so I'm often able to finagle.

It wasn't until today - when I saw someone do every single thing wrong - that I made note of some important characteristics of a good meeting. (Note that we've already covered content.)

"Katie," a colleague said when I answered the phone. "I just got your meeting notification - what's this about?"

"Ah," I replied slowly, trying to think. "I've been working with a couple of scientists and they asked if they could show off their work. You know, since you're new and important?"

He laughed and my lips curved as his acceptance notification appeared in my inbox. "I appreciate it," I offered. "They're good guys and it's interesting work and they wanted your thoughts on current status and next steps. Should be painless."

It was not painless.

1. Arrive on time.
I came to their offices 5 minutes before our scheduled time and escorted them to our assigned conference room. Upon our guest's arrival, we had connected laptop to projector and reviewed the goals of the meeting.

Before beginning, we'd done everything right.

2. Be briefly social.
I once was the recipient of a presentation where the speaker - a lovely older man - had notes on a yellow legal pad. The first line - scrawled in pencil - said "thank them for time." I found it adorable.

I was there to perform introductions at today's meeting so that part was easy. I asked about my colleague's week and offered my sympathy that he was stuffy and battling a cold. The scientists, though, immediately jumped into their science without offering the proper introductions and background. In Industry, it's much like I remember my post-doc.

Example: "I'm Katie and I work for Adam, doing my job. I've been in this role over 3 years and have been working on this particular project for the last 3 months. I thought we'd walk through some background information before I get to my specific question/request unless you had another idea?"

3. Make eye contact.
This may be a pet peeve, but it freaks me out when people don't look up. I've learned it sometimes cultural or just a personal habit to not stare at the person across from you. But it engages your audience - especially when it's an audience of 1 person - and gives you insight into their reactions. Both are critically important.

You want 1) your listener to pay attention and 2) to adapt your approach if you're getting negative feedback. So look at the person - it totally helps.

4. Force yourself to listen.
I'll be honest - I like to talk. I'm passionate about many topics. And given a good topic and some time to prepare, I can happily chatter away as if I were a bird in a tree first thing in the morning. I tell you this because I know you're likely prepared and super-smart and you have an outline of all kinds of information you want to offer. And that's lovely.

But other people also like to feel super-smart and offer all kinds of information. It makes them feel useful. And helps them clarify if there are misunderstandings.

So talk briefly about a visual you've created that's mostly self-explanatory. Then wait. If you've done well, your audience will finish reading and look at you. If he's wearing an expectant expression, continue. If he asks a question or makes a comment, consider it and respond appropriately.

Do not (please, please, please) engage in this awful monologue where you're talking and talking and talking about the same image on the same slide for-what-feels-like-ever. If you're caught up in your material, you're not able to adapt to your audience. And - if you want something from that audience - that's bad.

5. Seriously - listen.
The dear, sweet scientists barely allowed time for questions. Between the two of them, there were so many words that I couldn't keep track. I finally stopped them to ask for a reaction.

They interrupted him mid-way through a thought. One raised a hand to quiet him. The other kept raising his voice until he was basically yelling. And I winced.

Because I like and respect them, I continued to force pauses. Asked questions of my colleague. Encouraged him to engage - offer insight, ask questions, suggest alternate paths.

"We've struggled with this..." I would offer. "I suggested a format like that for the output - does that work?" I'd ask.

6. Finish up.
Be respectful of time. If you asked for an hour, take 55 minutes. As you're monitoring how things are going, manage your goals appropriately. And gauge your requests based on how the meeting has gone.

If there are more criticisms than compliments, perhaps schedule another time to talk so you can regroup before asking for money.

If there were suggestions for validation that make sense, go do them and follow up in addition to asking for a recommendation for a particular product program or journal entry.

Know what you want and have back-up plans so you can make progress toward that even if you're not able to get everything. And if you have a Katie-like helper, let her know what your goal is.

She'll try to help - I promise.

Sunday, February 05, 2012


I saved the candle, plucking it from the mountain of white frosting atop my cake, unable to think of a suitable wish for my 33rd birthday celebration.

I saw it today - perched in a magnetic basket on the side of my refrigerator that rattles sometimes. I nestled a chip-clip next to it and briefly pondered lighting it, hoping for some residual birthday magic and making a better wish.

I don't know what I'd want though. I still feel a bit distant - separate - from both present and future.

"So when do people start jumping ship?" I asked Adam on Friday and he shrugged before shifting in his chair. He explained that the people in the group who were thinking of moving on would likely be unable to do so. Periods of transition, politics, priorities - all the right buzz words that explained why it's beyond their control or his control or anyone's control, really, for the good of the business.

"Oh," I replied, shoulders slumping and he laughed at me for wanting to be rid of colleagues. "No, no," I denied, smiling with him. "I just want something to change - new people, new goals, new...something."

I just feel stuck. And bored. And a little tired.

I dreamed I was pregnant - have this vivid mental picture of masculine hands smoothing over my swollen belly with absent affection as we sat together reading a book.

I was naming dogs during a different nap - there were 8 of them and I was letting them inside from a chaotic romp in the yard. And I wanted to call them something as I nuzzled and cuddled them, but all I could think of was Spot for the dalmatian and Honey for the yellow lab.

Given that there is no man or baby (or pack of dogs), I let myself perk at the thought of a trip to Europe. A new camera and good shoes and fabulous architecture do a lot to make a Katie happy.

It's not all bad, I scold myself. My lovely tax refund was deposited in my bank account and I had nothing to do with it. I transferred it into savings, wondering at steady progression from no debt to not living month to month to watching money accumulate steadily in an account that mostly gathered dust throughout my adult life.

I have a house I love in a place I have no desire to leave.

"I'm like a knowledge ninja!" I cried last week after neatly dispatching 4 phone calls with quick and easy answers or orders. My experience makes it easy - don't offend this person, tell the truth with that one, try to find a way to help here but ignore there.

So what do I want? And why don't I know?

Friday, February 03, 2012


"The right side of my head hurts," I told the pharmacist, having waited patiently at the small plastic stop sign that I assume protected the privacy of the non-existent patients before me. "I'm stuffed up. And it's aching in my ear and under my eye and in my jaw. I can barely turn my head because my neck hurts. What can you give me?"

"Sudafed," she replied
promptly. And we stared at each other for a moment. I finally blinked and asked her if there was a way she could wander over and get some of them for me.

"I need your ID," she requested. "And your signature that indicates you won't make meth with the pills."

"I won't make meth with the pills," I parroted dutifully and punched two of the red tablets through their protective foil immediately upon getting in the car. Then I sighed, hoping they worked quickly.

Apart from a nasty head cold, we've slept and worked while the snow around us slowly melted away. The neighbor girls got a pogo stick and I watched the older girl bounce upon it while I fetched
my recycling bins from the curb. Recent days have brought changes - the white car left, the truck windows shattered - but the net difference is reasonably small. Everyone's now home, all the vehicles parked in their typical spots.

"But I'm ready to go somewhere," I whined when Adam suggested I cancel an upcoming trip to points south so as not to rupture my poor eardrum. "I mean, you look rough," he said, giving a half-apologetic shrug when I glared at him.

I soon smiled, however, when he offered up a trip to Paris. "Decide where else you want to go while you're over there and get me costs."

"Paris in early springtime," I murmured, already pondering Vienna and Zurich versus Italy and Greece. I crave the work as much as the change in scenery. Novel ideas and opportunities to learn rather than endless meetings and the taking of notes while we wait in this in-between phase where no decisions are final and plans are nothing but tentative.

So I'll dream while I decongest.