þjóðhátíðardagurinn – icelandic independence day – but… USA! USA! USA!

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Today is Icelandic independence day, part of the reason I always take this entire week off from work. June 17 (Icelandic independence day), June 18 (my birthday) and then the Swedish Midsummer holiday.

But in the midst of my celebrating my own birth, the birth of a nation and the cyclical birth of summer and bright summer nights, I am secretly (or not so secretly) chanting, “USA! USA! USA!” – which, if you know me, you know I would never in a million years do. But as I indulge in football match after football match in this year’s World Cup, I was cheering on the underdog American team but did not actually think they’d do anything. But then Seattle Sounders‘ player and national team captain Clint Dempsey scored in the first 34 seconds of the US’s first match (against Ghana). And the US actually won. Shocking.

The Changing Workscape: The Problem of Presenteeism & Baking Bounty

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I often joke about the “always-on” nature of the American professional. The work ethic is baked into the American psyche to the point that most Americans have trouble going on vacation without checking their email (what little vacation Americans get). It is not always so much that an American cannot stop working as it is that Americans feel less stress and enjoy the vacation more if they track what is going on in their absence, even if they don’t take action on anything during the vacation.

The Nordic work ethic, on the other hand, is just about the polar opposite. Vacation is serious and no interruption will be tolerated. In most cases. At least this is how it has been in most of my Scandinavian work experiences. While I will never be able to turn off the American worker bee inside me, I support the sentiment of separating work from vacation and time off, and thus am surprised and not pleased when I encounter Nordic corporate exception.

In managerial roles, people need to lead by example. I have of late encountered a lot of people who are taking work home, proudly announcing that they are up late at night answering emails and get up early to get two or three hours (!) of quiet time to work before they actually come to the office. The problem with this is not so much that managers are working at all hours, which is their prerogative, but that they are placing these kinds of expectations on others. I would call this a problem of “presenteeism”. You can be too present. Being present and working at all hours of day and night – and showing everyone that you are working – a manager is creating an environment that makes his/her entire team feel as though he is not doing enough if s/he is not working as much as the manager is, especially when this workaholic enthusiasm is overflowing. Nothing wrong with doing your job and loving it- but maybe some of the sending emails in the middle of the night could be curtailed.

Personally, I find this more troublesome when a workplace is particularly inflexible otherwise. With the way the workplace is changing, I would expect something different.

I have spent almost 15 years freelancing and working remotely. As the new century dawned and I took up residence in a new country, I had to adapt to a lot of new things – and part of that was finding a professional niche for myself. It also seemed like the dawn of a new era that would enable remote/virtual work, particularly in fields like mine (content development, writing, editing). To varying degrees, things have been moving in that direction, depending on the industry I worked in. Obviously the home office let me be the ever-present, never-present workaholic. That is, I have been available to work 24/7 without ever being present in an office. I have always been a happy American-style worker, and my home office is the most productive environment for me. As my regular, full-time jobs took the direction of allowing me to work primarily from home, I have realized that this is the only way for me to work.

The trick now will be to find the place that acknowledges my home as my office and will let me turn up in a real office on occasion, car loaded with hundreds and hundreds of cookies.

Send me a sign/leads – and cookies can be yours. Seriously – give me a lead, and I will give you cookies.

Random thoughts and cookie dough

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Grooving on loud music at 5 a.m. Hot Chocolate – Every 1s a Winner (not a whiner!)

I am going to make a bunch of cookie dough today and stick it in the freezer to bake next weekend. Time before the holidays is short. Must bake!

I am thinking about ways to give my 2014 the best possible chance for success, and more importantly, happiness and fulfillment. PLAY WITH BABY TIGERS! Build a treadmill desk! Knock down the superfluous upstairs walls! Fall in love with some lovely Parisian (even though s/he won’t have a Scottish accent!) and host next Thanksgiving in Paris! Go to more live shows – have more music in my life in general! Build my business up (either the web-based one or the bakery tank idea)! Find the perfect shade(s) of pink lipstick! (And I’m a sucker for the reds!) Learn more about wine! Finally take a real vacation somewhere far away that I often dream of! Get a Roomba! Take more walks in the forest, as gave me such joy two years ago! Enjoy every minute of being at home! When I worked at home, no matter how much I worked then, it always felt like I was on vacation – or at least that vacation did not matter. I was relaxed and organized. I miss that. I don’t know that all these things are possible, probable or even that they would contribute to elusive happiness. But they are fun ideas – it’s giving me some joy to think about it right now.

Soundtrack to giving in to the joy of now. Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

 “And one day we will die and our ashes will fly
From the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see
Love to be in the arms of all, I’m keepin’ here with me”

-Neutral Milk Hotel

More randomness

A friend posted an article on her Facebook wall that encouraged a return to some old-fashioned dating practices. When I reposted the article on my own Facebook wall, I stated that I might not need all the old-fashioned stuff (“I want all that stupid old shit, like letters and sodas…” Liz Phair, “Fuck and Run”), but one of the points touched a nerve – that we should call what we’re doing by what it is. Calling dating/courting/a relationship “hanging out” is an act of clinging to a juvenile and awkward period of not knowing who you are or what you want. I am almost 40. I might not want, as the letter says, to define a relationship as “exclusive” or a “Greg Brady-going steady” thing, but I am not “hanging out”. I don’t know when the shift happened between steps progressing into a relationship to this casual, non-committal, “we’re hanging out” vibe (and yes, it does seem like a “vibe” more than something grounded in reality).

As I lament the winding down of my vacation, I watched a handful of movies – mostly not memorable. But it was entertaining to rewatch a few – I am not normally someone who watches the same movies over and over, but I decided to watch Wall Street again after… 20+ years. Charlie Sheen had a sliver of talent then, beautiful, hopeful, full of vitality – all flushed away long ago to give way to the troll/demon he seems to have become. I loved all the “high-tech gadgets” that look so laughable now – the briefcase-sized cell phones and the two-inch-screen portable tv. Let’s not overlook Daryl Hannah’s ridiculous wardrobe or the unthinkable way she decorated the Sheen character’s apartment. Oh, the 80s.

A few weeks ago, a few women in my office and I took our young Spanish intern to lunch for his birthday. The women and I are all in the late-30s age bracket; the intern was turning 24. On our walk to the restaurant, the intern was questioning me about how I manage to walk around outside without covering my legs or wearing a real coat – +5C is cold for him. I don’t “winterize” until -20C. I did explain that I don’t keep my house like an icebox, saying, “In my house, the heat is on.” My three similarly aged female colleagues and I, in unison, burst into song, as if on cue, “The heat is on… it’s on the street…” Way to date ourselves, relics of a bygone era! The intern had never heard the song, apparently, but when we got back to the office, he wanted a full education in 80s music and all things American because I am, in his words, “his American bible”. Hmm.

As if it were not abundantly clear already, I am one of those nerds who holds on to details. While my colleagues could not remember who performed “The Heat is On”, I could immediately “(dis)credit” Glenn Frey and rattle off his career history with The Eagles (who blighted – yes, I exaggerate – 70s music about as much as Frey and his Eagle partner-in-crime Don Henley inflicted their solo careers on 80s music). I suppose “The Heat is On” was only as popular as it was because it was also associated with the Beverly Hills Cop film franchise, which is also a quintessential part of 80s pop culture. While schooling this intern in 80s horrors for the ears, I also managed to share the dubious 80s songs/hits of Starship while also sharing the history of how they came about – rising from the ashes of the drug-addled remnants of other related 60s and 70s has-been bands, much like a lot of the stuff that filled the 80s music charts. All supposedly reformed (in both senses of the word) and “Just Say No” – HA. (Starship managed also to supply one of the worst songs, as well as churning out mediocrity for much of the decade – for one of the era’s worst movies – “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from Mannequin – highlight of Andrew McCarthy or Kim Cattrall’s careers? Almost no 80s movie could have been complete without Andrew or James Spader, who was in both Mannequin and the aforementioned Wall Street. Both also figured prominently in the 80s classic, Less than Zero, which was also a very true-to-life vehicle for the then very messed up Robert Downey, Jr. And both McCarthy and Spader were in 80s teen favorite, Pretty in Pink – along with Jon Cryer – who has not done much other than that and, of course, the role of the aforementioned Charlie Sheen’s brother on the dismal and crass TV show, Two and a Half Men.)

Nothing can make someone feel old like imparting all this “popular culture” knowledge – when the “popular” culture her reference points are attached to were popular 20 or 30 years ago.

The same young intern came and said to me, “Did you know they had a war in Croatia not that long ago?” when we were talking about football (my beloved Iceland was playing Croatia for a chance to get into the World Cup at the time. They lost, but at least my Icelandic underdogs gave it a go). Yes, Croatia did have a war, young man, when you were in diapers and learning to walk. I was there (well, in Bosnia anyway) monitoring post-war elections.

I can forgive a young boy for not knowing “The Heat is On” – but a major war that took place in recent history within Europe…? God save the Spanish education system?!

Then again, that is what life is for – you do learn something new every day. Sometimes totally useless stuff. I, for example, learned that Liverpool named its airport after John Lennon. I sort of doubt Lennon would have liked that (not that I know what he would have liked). I wonder what Yoko thinks. (Yoko’s Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland somehow strikes me as something both of them would have approved of more than an international airport that seems to primarily take British tourists to get drunk and sunburned in Spain.)

Anyway, I started that tangent to say that I was watching movies. I rewatched Brokeback Mountain again – this is probably the third time I saw it, and I am still moved by Heath Ledger’s performance. Actually all the performances were outstanding, especially when contrasting it with Wall Street, which I watched immediately before. Even the secondary characters in Brokeback seem to have some depth and reality – you can feel for the wives of the two main characters. They are more than just one-dimensional props. The girlfriend and wife – all secondary characters – in Wall Street are hollow.

I went in an entirely different direction after that – watching Rêves de poussière, a film from Burkina Faso – the cinematography was beautiful, the story simple and arresting.

As the remaining minutes of vacation tick by, I do laundry, get middle-of-night, belligerent phone calls and wonder how a drunken person I have not seen in a decade or more (but have known now for 20 years) thinks he misses me. How do you miss someone you have not seen in more than ten years? Especially when that feeling has always been a one-way street. You don’t. You’re smoking nostalgia, you’re drinking a memory of something that never was. It’s imaginary.

“What a beautiful face I have found in this place
That is circling all ’round the sun and when we meet on a cloud
I’ll be laughing out loud, I’ll be laughing with everyone I see
Can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all”

-Neutral Milk Hotel

Scheming – agreed way to proceed

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Every time I go on a “staycation” (hate that invented word but suddenly have occasion to abuse it) vacation, I intend to get a whole slew of things on a long to-do list done. Things start well but if I get derailed in some way (I like routine), I am really derailed, so I spend time reading and watching film after film. It’s for the best because the things on the to-do list are almost always work-related. Why would I spend my vacation working? I have done this all my life. This American work ethic (or insanity) never leaves, no matter how long you have been outside the US. The urge to work, check work email, be engaged instead of tuning out and turning off just buzzes under the skin. I am trying to retrain myself. But it’s difficult. One part of me wants to proceed one way, another part wants to proceed another. My lazy side is winning out because I am just so exhausted on every level right now. Usually I have to scheme with myself

Not that I watch “easy” things. I have watched some challenging documentaries, as usual. I have not just watched crap like the stupid film about Denzel Washington as an alcoholic airline pilot (stupid movie but I liked the small parts played by John Goodman and Don Cheadle), although I did watch that. Mostly I have chosen documentaries like Pink Ribbons, Inc., which also brought to mind the book Brand Aid and the whole idea of “cause marketing”. Or Hit So Hard, a documentary on former Hole drummer, Patty Schemel and her experiences in that and other bands, her drug addictions, her self-doubt and finally reaching some sort of peace with herself. And now Sons of Perdition, a documentary about the FLDS (Fundamental Latter Day Saints – a splinter group living far afield of the mainstream Mormon church and the young men who have left or been thrown off the “compound”. The film chronicles the “Lost Boys” of this group, exiled by the group’s leader, Warren Jeffs (who has been convicted of sexual assault against children in the US).

Most interesting was to see the juxtaposition between an entire family rejecting a member (as in Sons of Perdition) (“choosing between family and what someone else wants you to be”) and a family accepting a member even when she has not completely accepted herself (as it appears Patty Schemel’s mother did when Schemel came out as a lesbian in her teen years). Schemel may not have been completely comfortable with this, but it seems her mother loved and was proud of her in every way. (Naturally we are seeing only what the documentary gives us. I did enjoy Schemel’s mother’s reaction when Schemel was upset that she had made a pass at another girl (something similar), which was not reciprocated. Her mother indicated that there was nothing wrong with the feelings – there isn’t! – but that not much better could be expected. It’s Marysville (a “hicktown” in Washington state, north of Seattle. I know the feeling – I got in trouble for calling my own little Washington town a “hicktown” on the intercom system of my junior high. But for god’s sake – let’s agree to be honest. It was a hicktown!)

Baked goods for colleagues on a warmer than expected Tuesday morning

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Despite being officially on vacation (celebrating American Thanksgiving with my friends) I baked a few things for my colleagues and brought the goodies to work. On offer are white chocolate macadamia cookies, M&M cookies, Raffaello-candy-stuffed cupcakes with vanilla bean and coconut Swiss meringue frosting, peanut-butter stuffed chocolate cake, shortbread and brownie bites stuffed with Snickers candy bar pieces. Some of this was experimental (like the brownie bites). I almost threw the brownie bites away because they became so sticky in the pan I thought I would not get them out intact. I have no idea how they taste but I salvaged them by putting the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes and digging around the edges with a knife. (Recipes/pics to follow.)

I am a very bad girl – I still have not switched over to winter tires, which is not only dangerous this time of year but illegal in Norway. Granted, I don’t drive to Norway that much any more, but here I am today… so first order of business is to take the car to get the tires changed this morning. I came to the office first, though, because I enjoy driving in the middle of the night when there are no other cars. Unfortunately there were a lot of cars (a lot for 3:30 a.m. anyway), but I had a nice, relaxing drive in any case.

The cookies are out and ready to take in reception, second and third floors of my office – so now I am free to run away to the tire change place… and then off to the airport to pick up one of the Thanksgiving guests coming to my questionable Thanksgiving soirée (questionable in that I am a decent baker but would not place bets on my cooking, despite the fact that I cook Thanksgiving every year, and the players continue to live and come back for more…).