Friday, December 16, 2011

The Man Cave

I have been working at Amtico almost a year now, and have survived the year of spending my days in a man cave. I have always enjoyed working with men, but this is my first experience of working with nothing BUT men. It has certainly been an adventure.

Our man cave is carved out of the large reception area of the Amtico manufacturing plant. It’s really nothing much more than seven-foot outer walls, and five-foot inner walls that separate our individual working space, otherwise known as cubicles. There is nothing decorative about our space, save for photos of children and grandchildren that have been photocopied and pinned to the cushiony walls separating us. My space is actually not much different. I have photos of my sons and dogs, calendars, and a few pithy sayings gracing my inner sanctum. I sometimes think I’ll bring something in to make it a little more welcoming and homey, but then I don’t want to become too attached to this place.

Dealing with complaints and claims all day long, tempers can become stretched like tight rubber bands, and occasionally colorful language erupts from behind cubicle walls. Since I work with gentlemen, an apology always follows the verbal eruptions. Most of the time I don’t mind, but every now and then I have to escape for a few minutes while the storm roars.

My belief has been reinforced through working with men that there really is a difference between men and women in how we think, act, and process information. These men think differently than I do, and follow different paths of reasoning and working through problems. For example, one day in a meeting, I was asked to create a computer-generated, interactive form – something I’d never done before, or even considered ever having to do. “It’s easy,” one of my co-workers told me, “it won’t take you more than twenty minutes.” When we met again the following week, I was totally frustrated from spending a total of at least ten hours on this project, and still not accomplishing my task. My boss couldn’t understand why I hadn’t finished the form or why I was having difficulty with it. “It’s easy,” was repeated, followed by, “I don’t see what your problem is.” With that, I got up from my chair and exited the conference room where we were meeting. Ten minutes later, my boiling point down to a mild simmer, I returned to the group. The three of them looked at me as if they were gazing at an alien from outer space, but nothing more was said about the form. Three days later - lo and behold - my email inbox had a message from someone I’d never met, with the completed form as an attachment. Why couldn’t they have gotten this mystery person to work on it in the first place, I wondered. However, I didn’t question, but simply accepted this gift.

A few days later, one of the guys I work with was joking about my walking out of the meeting. “We didn’t know what to think,” he said. “None of us understood why you were so upset.” I replied, “Imagine this, if you can. I bring a ball of yarn, a crochet hook, and a page of instructions on how to crochet a scarf, and place it on your desk. ‘It’s easy,’ I tell you. ‘All you need to do is follow the directions. It shouldn’t take you more than twenty minutes to whip this up for me.’ ” He stared at me, the light bulb of understanding beginning to reflect from his eyes. Since then, I haven’t been asked to do something that is outside of my area of familiarity or expertise, without the appropriate training or tools.

I never knew that guys liked to gossip until working here. I swear that they are worse than any women I’ve ever known. They love a good scandal, and relish the details, replaying them over and over, laughing all the time, while at the same time coming up with wild assumptions of what might have really happened. I’ll take a female gossip session over one of these any day! I have to admit that I learn a lot about what goes on behind the scenes, but I really get tired of hearing the same story repeatedly, always with a new twist or angle added for entertainment, followed by gales of masculine laughter.

On the whole, I like working with men better than I did when I worked with an all-woman staff. The testosterone in the air isn’t nearly as objectionable as estrogen overload. However, there have been times when I’d have loved to have another girl close by when I felt the need to escape the man cave. Thankfully, my wish has been answered. Our new office manager, a female, started working here this week. It’s nice to hear the sound of a higher pitched voice drifting over the cubicle walls, and I’m looking forward to having a feminine conversation every now and then.

Yes, I’m getting adjusted to working in the man cave. It’s a pretty good place to spend my days. That is, as long as there’s a clearly marked escape route!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


One of my best friends phoned me yesterday to tell me that she had read my Christmas letter – not one time, but three. She said that each time she read it, she received a different message from it, which I thought was totally cool. I jokingly responded that while the third time usually is the charm, perhaps she needed to read it one more time, and let me know what she thinks then. We both laughed, but my thoughts continued after our phone call ended.

As I struggled to write my Christmas message this year, a comment that Sister Carol Perry (the Bible Scholar for Marble Collegiate Church) made in a Bible study that I watch online kept creeping up and tapping me on the shoulder. She mentioned the fact that the Hebrew people of Bible times were reminded over and over “to remember.” Remembering was very important to their faith and culture – they remembered the stories of their faith, they remembered the prophets, they remembered the commandments, and they remembered God’s promise to His people. I began to consider “remembering” from a personal perspective, leading me to write my own message in this year’s Christmas letter.

Now that Christmas Cookie Baking Day is over, and it joins my collection of cherished memories of the season, I think about Christmases past, and realize that everything worth remembering is now in my collection of memories. And this is what my Collection of Days is all about – remembering. But memories are not always happy, as my friend reminded me when we were talking about my Christmas message, and many people do not have the warm Christmas memories that I wrote about. But what about the sad times, in addition to the happy? Do we remember them all? Yes, all memories are part of the collection of life, as they merge and mingle together, allowing us to remember and to grow.

As I go back to the reference of the Old Testament Hebrew community, I see that much of their remembering was in the form of lessons learned. In an Old Testament college class I took many years ago, one of the main lessons I retained from the class was that God blessed his people, they strayed from God, God punished them, they repented, and God blessed them with a grace gift, thus beginning the cycle all over again. This became the essence of their remembering, as they told and retold the stories of their faith and their God. If it weren’t for remembering, how could they ever learn?

So, I return in my thoughts to this Christmas. As each day comes and goes, all activities and thoughts move from the present into the realm of memory. Today is a brief moment in my life, but the memories of Christmases past grow with each day that passes. It becomes less important what my frame of mind is as I approach Christmas, or what mood the season may cast upon me, but more importantly how the memory and remembering changes me as I move into my future. Whether I am happy or sad, alone or surrounded by people, busy or contemplative, a gift-giver or a gift-receiver, the important thing for me is to remember, not only my personal Christmases, but also what Christmas really means. It becomes vitally important for me to remember God’s greatest grace gift of all time.

It’s something to ponder, don’t you think?

(Please read my Christmas letter, posted on this blog on December 7).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Time For Remembering

My Annual Christmas Message to Family and Friends.

I sit at my computer, staring at a blank screen, not knowing what to write. I feel like I am Christmased out with inspiring stories and witty essays to share. Inspiration seems to have gone on vacation, and I sit here wondering what to say. Usually by this time of year, something has touched my heart, and my writing comes effortlessly. This year- I struggle to find a creative thought. So…. what am I going to write about Christmas this year?

I’d like to say how much I am looking forward to Christmas the way I did as a child and as a mother of two little boys, but I’m not. There is so much for a child to look forward to with all of the holiday excitement in the air. I remember childhood Christmases, picturing my family gathered around our dining room table for our family dinner. I see my friends and me racing up and down the Winnona Drive sidewalk on new roller skates or bikes, and cradling our new baby dolls. As we get older, we model sweaters and new outfits for each other, and listen to our LP records on the hi-fi set in our den. I watch my mother’s delight upon opening Daddy’s gift- the one Molly and I were given the assignment on Christmas Eve to go out and buy for him to give to her. I see my own children’s faces light up in glee on Christmas morning as they dump their stockings to find all kinds of treasures, and then tear open their gifts that they had circled in the Sears Christmas catalog. I watch all of this from a distance, and I remember.

Yes, my memories of Christmas Day are warm and fuzzy.

Christmas is certainly different now. While I celebrate Christmas with my annual Christmas Cookie Baking Day early in December, once it is over, our home is quiet for the rest of the season. There’s not much to anticipate. We get together with a small group during the holidays for our annual Christmas lasagna dinner, and some years we travel during the season. But Christmas Day is usually a home-alone, ho-hum kind of day. With my sons living on opposite sides of the country, it’s very rare for them to be with me at Christmas. I miss those family Christmases.

I don’t want to sound negative about Christmas, because I’m not. I know my memories are certainly distorted as I gaze through the mist into my past. As surely as I, along with my boys, have grown up and changed, my celebration of Christmas has also changed. I think about the spiritual nature of Christmas more than I did as a child, and Santa Claus and receiving gifts aren’t important to me the way they were when I was a little girl, or when Wade and Brian were kids. However, Christmas Eve continues to be magical and mystical. It has taken a prominent place in my celebration, as I sit in the sanctuary at church and let the music, candlelight, and scripture of the holy night wash over me. While it is a beautiful narrative, the nativity story doesn’t hold the same appeal to me as it once did, as I understand that the Biblical account of the night of Christ’s birth probably isn’t totally factual, and the event may not have been exactly as it is portrayed in the Bible story. However, the significance of Jesus’ entry into this world and the impact of his life and ministry is overwhelming to me as I celebrate his birth.

I guess what I am saying this year is that being excited about Christmas Day may not be as important as I thought. Childhood Christmases are only a memory, and the reality is that life changes as the years pass. Maybe I’m supposed to approach Christmas Day differently; perhaps it’s more important for me to simply remember Christmases past as I embrace this Christmas. Christmas 2011 has something unique to offer as I open my heart to the possibilities.

My blank sheet of paper is finally filled with my Christmas message for this year. My wish for my readers is a Christmas filled with the love of family and friends, the warmth of peace and joy, the tastes and sounds of yummy food and happy laughter - all wrapped up in wonderful Christmas memories for future Christmases.