Ready or not, here we come….

….smack into the holidays, and me still in a cast for this broken wrist.  Sigh.  My dear friend Linda and Rachel helped prepare side dishes just before Thanksgiving, and my brilliant niece Sarah did most of the cooking on the big day.  Good thing, or it would have been mighty slim pickings around Casa Woodworth.  As it was – we feasted, and with four of America’s heroes from Lackland Air Force Base.

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(l-r) Avery from Michigan;   Jake from Arizona; Kyle from Oklahoma; Jimmy from California.  We love living in patriotic San Antonio with its Operation Home Cooking.

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Jake and were “twinning” with broken wrists.  We compared the joy of tying shoe laces, cutting meat, carrying more than one plate, etc.

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Some pre-dinner chess with Hannah, great nephew James and Rachel’s lizard Louis.

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Gotta check up on Facebook!  We’ve learned to tape our phone numbers around (as shown on the left monitor) so if a family needs to return a call, the guys know our numbers.

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The airmen generally “run out” the cordless phones.   We have three phone lines they can use, with a confusing array of instruments.  If you pick up the line and someone is talking, pick another line/device.

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For a little more privacy – Julia’s room .  Jimmy’s uniform looks a little out-of-place with all the Vera Bradley and One Direction decor.

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A little boogie woogie for Kyle’s girlfriend on Skype (screen behind him)

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Laura and James scarfed two of the four turkey legs.

Our much-loved Houston family left yesterday, so we’ve had time to clear away the remnants of Thanksgiving, and get the Christmas tree decorated.  Best of all – we got out our Christmas Fiestaware, and Keith surprised me with several new plates.  Be still my heart, I love Fiestaware.  And….truly…I just love fiestas in general!

Feliz Navidad, here we come!

Posted in Celebrate, Family, San Antonio, Tasty Eats | 5 Comments

“I Do” x 25

Keith and I have been married 25 years this month.  Though – as Indiana Jones so wisely observed – it’s not the years, it’s the mileage.

We decided to put some mileage between us and the workaday world to celebrate.  What better first-ever-vacation-with-no-kids than a cruise?  Nothing’s better, that’s what.  I love our family vacations, but they generally involve a few hours in the car (which I despise), cooking/freezing ahead of time (work), massive laundry loads (more work) , “finding things,” settling arguments, washing dishes, bagging trash, etc. (even more work.)  A cruise – you pack, you get there, you get on the boat.  Everything else is a choice.  THAT is a VACATION.

So it was off to Miami and then the Western Caribbean for us!

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The Carnival Glory – and how glorious it was to have an upgraded room offered to us at a very reasonable cost days before sailing.  The service was great, with one exception – I think their tendering (boat to shore as opposed to docking) process needs some attention.  Too much wasted time and cattle herding in the stairwells.

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Likely the closest we’ll ever be to Cuba, which is seen on the horizon.  Views from the balcony were my favorite part of the trip.  We started every morning and finished every evening in the fresh air.  Keith and I would just sit on the balcony and remark on the clouds, the waves, other boats, the occasional bird, etc.  No drama.  No phones (shudder.)  No interruptions.   Just the sound of the waves, the smell of the ocean and the feel of a breeze.  The first two nights, we each slept for 10 hours, plus napped – ridiculous, right?  I didn’t realize how really tired we were.

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Did someone say “free champagne at the art auctions?”  Naturally, we had to go.  Keith was chosen by the auctioneer to hurriedly recite all the bidding numbers in the room, which he did – winning all of us a free print.

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I much admired – but did not buy – this Yaacov Agam geodesic.  (Repeat after me:  “Three kids in college, three kids in college.”)  It was only $4,500, should you be looking for my birthday gift.

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I confess:  I love the Carnival pillow (towel) pets each evening, plus the turn-down chocolates. 

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First stop:  Cozumel, Mexico.  But first – an explanation of the black thing on my left arm.  That’s a waterproof cast, an object I did not know existed until I tripped, fell and broke my left wrist four days before we sailed.  The cast allows me to move my fingers, but I can’t grip, or twist, or lift, or put any weight on it.  Sigh.  That untimeliness necessitated several quick-quick packing changes for me, plus a lot more work for Keith.  I could not – for example – take a bag down an escalator, or open the tight door to our balcony, or hang clothes, or cut my meat, or even fully dress myself.  My wrist is healing nicely, and I hope to have the cast off in late December/early  January – and it’s not like there’s anything going on in late November/December that involves cooking, cleaning or decorating or dressing up…am I right, ladies?!

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The Mayan ruins on Cozumel .  Our tour guide told us that in this century(!), many had been torn apart to build modern structures.  Heartbreaking.  I know many people scoff at tour guides, but I like a good one – and ours were all good.  I didn’t do as much reading as I should have before we left, and I love having people, places and things put into context for me.

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We figured this guy was a distant cousin of Louis.

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Cozumel beaches – gorgeous!  I would love to spend a week in one of their resorts.  The water was crystal clear.

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Carnival servers – and nearby diners –  serenaded us for our anniversary.  We liked eating in the dining room as opposed to the more informal Lido deck.  I tried a few things I’d not enjoyed before – stewed frog legs (I’d had them fried), beef tongue, ox tail soup, Welsh rarebits.

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Far and away, the best food on the ship was served in a remote sea food shop called “Fish and Chips.”  Keith found out about it from a You Tube video.  Shown here:  A bowl from the never-ending pot of bouillabaisse full of shrimp, clams, fish, etc. in a spicy tomato broth.   Plus – on the side – a raw tuna and watermelon cup, which may sound odd, but tasted delicious.  I devoured two bowls of bouillabaisse and two tuna cups three different times.  I swear I could eat a bowl every day.  I may have to learn to make it.

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Next stop:  Belize (formerly British Honduras.) 

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Altun Ha was more of what I was expecting with Mayan ruins, namely, pyramids.  Getting to the site took about 90 minutes by bus, and the drive was depressing.  We moved too fast for photos, but all I could think was “India.”  Squalid shacks, half-naked women and children, and a horrible road.  I wouldn’t vacation of Belize unless I was in an armed compound (no kidding.)    Beautiful, lush jungle, though.  But no beaches – jagged coastline.  Food is incredibly expensive.  Corn flakes are $27/box, and reserved for special occasions.

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Keith climbed with the more adventuresome.  I was doing nothing to risk a fall on my broken wrist.  (sqawk-sqawk)

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Our tour guide explained the open area between the pyramids was where the crowds would gather to worship.  My old(er) friends know I was saving to visit the Egyptian pyramids when I met Keith.  Instead of traveling, we spent that money on a wedding.  So seeing the Mayan pyramids for our 25th anniversary was especially meaningful.

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Next stop:  Isla Roatan (Honduras.) 

Absolutely beautiful island, but a little creepy to see armed troops scattered about with machine guns.

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Playing with dolphins was our very favorite excursion.  Dolphins shed their skin every two – three hours and it feels like a baby’s bottom – so smooth.  Wonderful experience.  My waterproof cast got its first real workout.  This wasn’t a cheap excursion, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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Pucker up, Buttercup!

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Keith wanted some Cuban cigars, but almost everything for sale was fake.  Cheap fakes, expensive fakes, some better than others, but still fakes.  The hunt was intriguing – even I started looking at their water marks and banding.  He did eventually purchase a few real ones, but could have easily been tricked.

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Coming soon to a wine glass near me.  Supposed to have quite a kick.

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 Last stop:  Grand Cayman.

The girls were horrified at our photographed “clothing repeats.”  We did do laundry.  Well, Keith did laundry.  We just didn’t want to pack a bunch of clothes to have to haul around, especially since I wasn’t doing much hauling.

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November 13 was “Pirate Day” in Grand Cayman, so in addition to lots of dressed-up mateys, this beauty greeted us.  RRR-rrr-rrr!

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Another really special excursion – the Cayman turtle farm.  We’re turtle people, and seeing/holding these big ones was really special. 

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We got to swim with the turtles, too, in a winding, man-made lagoon – very cool, except I think my much-loved Canon D-60 leaked in the process.  It’s being repaired (I hope) now.  Fortunately, Keith had his little waterproof Fuji.

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My most-wise purchase the day after I broke my wrist – these Chaco sandals.   I couldn’t tie my own sneakers and didn’t want to burden Keith with that, too.  And – with my cruddy ankles – I wanted sturdy shoes with some arch support.  Rachel with the rescue recommendation – the Chaco’s.  They’re awesome.  And waterproof.  I wore them the entire cruise except at dinner, when I slipped on a dress and black Crocs flats.  Panty hose – no can do.  Discovered I couldn’t put on/take off my regular hoop earrings, either, and I didn’t want to leave my hoops in to sleep.  Again – Rachel to the rescue with a pair of cheapie studs which I likely won’t try to take out until the cast comes off.  Actually, these Chaco’s are my default daily shoes until the cast comes off.  I like regular Crocs, but they’re a little “wobbly,” and I’m a little paranoid about this wrist.

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Lots of fish to swim with, too. 

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Yes, that’s a shark – on the other side of a thick Plexiglass wall.  The turtles, fish and I did not swim with him.  Tell you what – even knowing the Plexiglass was sound, seeing that thing so close gave me the heebie-jeebies.

Then it was time to come home.  Sigh.

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This guy asked me if I loved him.

The answer was the same one I gave 25 years ago – “I do.”



Posted in Away from Home, Family | 12 Comments

Drum roll, please……

drrrrrrrrrr….and the announcement is…..320 Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes delivered this year, thanks to generous friends.

Boys               Girls

Age 2 – 4                   32                    63             95

Age 5 – 9                   64                    97            161

Age 10 – 14               33                    31               64

Totals                      129                  191             320

That “generous friends” phrase isn’t an empty, oh-isn’t-that-nice acknowledgement.  It’s the truth.  This would not happen with a whole lot of other people.  You know who you are.

Why was this year so big as compared to 2013 (234), or 2012 (185?)  I think because:  (1) We had odds and ends left over from previous years that we purposed to use.  (2)  2014 was “the year of the elephant,” which I will explain momentarily.  (3)  We had a lot of very generous donations from a wide variety of friends.

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We bag all cloth items to keep them clean, plus, the ziplock bags are a much-valued part of the gift.  This year, Lisa and Mimi donated about 200 wash rags, so, we collected hotel soaps to go with them.  (Note:  Doing that in 2015, too, so please bring home those little bars!)  My friend Paula and her daughter Kelley do 99% of the dirt work of bagging.  It’s really tedious work, and really necessary, and deserves much more than the “thanks” given here.  Anyway…..we discovered that one bag on the soap-wrapped-wash-rags wasn’t enough.  The soap smell still came through, and threatened to ruin the taste of the candy to come later.   So young friends Mabry and Olivia added a second bag over the first.  The air has to be squeezed out – not quick.

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Julia and friend Abby tackled school supplies single-handedly one Sunday afternoon.  Pens, pencils, note pads, etc. all separated.  We had a great supply of “One Direction” pens, pencils and note pads at Target 70% off – Keith and I bought all they had, and skimmed them out for the Boys/Girls ages 10 – 14.

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My friend of almost 40 years – Shelley – was the first to tackle the elephant herd.  A friend gave us hundreds of stuffed elephants leftover from an event.  Cute!  Plush!  Lovely!  But too big for the boxes.  So Keith thought of running them through our (now groaning) vacuum food sealer.  It took about five minutes to shrink an elephant in a custom-cut bag.  At lunch time, I gave Shelley what I was eating (a flat bread and salad).  When Hannah found out I hadn’t bought her lunch out, she said, “I don’t understand why Shelley still speaks to you.”  I replied, “Remember I’ve known her more than twice as long as I’ve known you.”   Shelley also did much of the organizing required in our packing area (game room), which is no fun at all.

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Friends Steve and Jo drove in from Houston to do more dirt work, i.e., shrinking the elephant herd, as well as filling toddler bottles with candy (nothing ships empty), and stuffing “littles” into boxes.  Steve was the pastor of my growing-up church in Houston, and was kind enough not to share too many insights into my past.  I’ll mail you that dollar later, Steve.

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A herd of elephants a la vacuum sealer.  Takes about 5 minutes to shrink an elephant – not counting the time to cut and seal the bag.

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Julia and her best friend Toni packed the first boxes for girls ages 5 -9.  They’re both experienced pros.  Two weeks ago, they helped me figure out how many plastic shoe boxes we actually had, and pre-fill them with a bag of some sort, and a Christmas greeting.  GREAT NEWS – It would appear Samaritan’s Purse is going to standardize the plastic shoe box – see it here.

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We packed two evenings, and one afternoon, plus all the last-minute stuff on Saturday.  We had some really neat, unusual stuff this year like….

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Sewing kits for girls.  Genius!

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And spoons.  We’ve had neat toddler silverware sets before – had many this year – but why did nobody ever think of spoons before Lisa?  So smart.  The “Go Packs” (crayons, activity book) shown on the left were quite awesome, and we had a lovely variety.

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First time to have three generations packing!  Cathy, Amy and Amy’s daughters Abby and Emmy.  They are w-o-r-k-e-r-s.

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Filling the boxes!

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Friend Stephanie has five kids, and is adopting three more from Ukraine, but still squeezed in an afternoon’s packing.   When something needs to be done, ask the busiest people.  Truth.

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They also serve who cannot pack – like Amy, who dropped by cases of drinks on a precious Sunday afternoon, and had plastic shoe boxes delivered here.  Plus the shipping money!  Omigosh, this literally would not happen without that.  Yes, my kitchen looked like this.  It was the maid’s month off.

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Friend Kelley invested hundreds of hours this year melting and re-forming broken crayons into……

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….much smaller crayons, and novelties like wax rings and small airplanes.  What a win – for the environment, and for the kids who get them.  Kelley worked on crayons all year, in spite of surgery and therapies.  You can’t keep a good woman down!  Note:  Broken crayons are appreciated any time you can donate!  We’ll be doing this in 2015, too.

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Candy.  Oh, candy – I so screwed up this year, though Bart (a.k.a., “The Candy Man” on the right) and other friends were kind enough not to guilt me.  A few friends donated bags in advance – very helpful, since we had toddler water bottles to fill, and I couldn’t afford to buy the candy until Saturday (the day after Halloween.)  Okay, got those done.  Then our church was kind enough to give me the non-chocolate candy after our Fall Festival – two nice big shopping bags of it.  Awesome!  Knew we needed more, so Keith and I bought nine gynormous bags at Wal-mart early Saturday.  I totally miscalculated, though, and….

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….I had to ask poor Hannah to dash out Saturday and buy 18 more bags, while everyone waited.  And ate doughnuts and drank Cokes, and waited….embarrassed me no end to waste people’s time.  Never again.  I’ll buy literally double what I think we need and return the remainder if needed.  And the worst part?  Our last box – Boy, 5 – 9 – is the first, last and ONLY box we’ve ever sent or will send without candy.  There was just no easy way to retrieve boxes loaded in the car and re-shuffle contents.  So I am counting on Samaritan’s Purse to fix that in the Distribution Center.  Dumb!!!  Thanks Jay, Angela and Robbin for not handing me my head.

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Hannah – a business major at UTSA – was the last stop in the packing chain.  She did a final check of all boxes, and kept the stroke sheet.  Nothing left the house without her okay. 

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Our good neighbor Kim – with her child’s mind and faith – never, ever fails to “come to help” when she sees activity at our house.   No one would press Kim to contribute.  No one would fault her for not helping.  But she offers.   I have always found it interesting that the people who have some of the best reasons not to do something are often the ones who do the most.  It’s kind of like asking the busiest people to do something.    

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I adore young legs.  They carry boxes out to the car with smiles.

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Keith played “Expedition Tetris” and managed to wedge in all 320 boxes.  I was incredulous.   But now I know how to answer if anyone asks me the capacity of the 2011 Expedition.  It’s 320 shoe boxes!

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Unloading at church Sunday – everybody coming in grabbed a stack including our children’s minister, Ms. Reby.   She leads by example.

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Keith asked young friend Copeland to climb in the back and keep handing out boxes after he’d cleared an arm’s length.  Keith then rolled down a side passenger window and started grabbing them out of it.

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Finally dropped off!  Again – love those young legs!

From here, our 320 boxes will be packed into crates (usually 14 – 18 boxes per crate) and trucked to a warehouse on the south side.  At the warehouse, the crates will be shrink-wrapped into pallets and loaded onto an 18-wheeler for Denver.  And from Denver, they’ll be flown to needy children somewhere in the world.   And those plastic shoe boxes are likely to be carrying water.

Unique in 2014:  Much more for toddlers, and older kids.  The elephant herd.  Spoons, sewing kits, abundance of playing cards, plastic whistles, washrags/soap.  Three generations of packers.  The one box without candy because I’m an idiot (sniff.)

There’s no way to list everyone who helped.  You know who you are, and so does God.  You’ll never get a “thanks” from the child who gets a pencil and can now return to school, or the toddler with AIDS who dies with that stuffed elephant clutched in his fist.  Of course, you weren’t asking for thanks anyway, or you’d be doing something flashy instead of haunting the Target Dollar Spot, or scouring eBay, or sacrificing money for shipping when there are things you’d like to have yourself.  Like this hypothetical, and I’m not mentioning a hypothetical name – someone who has a 10-year-cancer-free check-up and decides instead of (rightfully!) spending money on herself, to give.  You amaze me.

I had a very strong feeling this year about Girls 10 – 14 – a real “burning in the bosom.”  I felt it off and on through the year, and almost constantly when we packed.  In fact – I packed most of the Girls 10 – 14 boxes myself, because I felt driven to do so.  I think there’s something special for some girl somewhere in one of those boxes.  I don’t say this to be dramatic – I have four daughters, I hate drama.  I’ll never know who got the box, or why it was important.  But I think it was.

The 320 is great….but….it’s never been about the number, and it never will be.  It’s about doing as many boxes as we’re supposed to do.  This year, it was 320.  Next year – don’t know.  But please keep saving your hotel soaps, and grabbing those broken crayons.

Because – God willing – we’ll be doing it again.  In fact….I can hear the drum beating now…

Posted in Faith, Family, Samaritan's Purse | 11 Comments

Happy 35 to Meeeeeeeeeee

I just celebrated my 35th service anniversary with AT&T.  By “celebrated,” I mean I got some very nice congratulatory emails/letters, a new watch and Keith and I get to go out to dinner soon.  I choose a watch as my gift for my 25th and 30th anniversaries, too, so, I’ve told my boss – she can’t fire me for five more years.  I need four watches – one for each daughter.

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Sorry, kids, I like a watch to tell time – not a cell phone  I gotta dig out of my purse.  And I like a nice big dial.  And no extra buttons.  A few years ago, I bought a cheap waterproof watch to wear during our frequent trips to Fiesta Texas.  Somehow I set the alarm for 3 a.m.  I could not figure out how to un-set it.  Finally I stuck the watch in the bottom of my underwear drawer and waited a few months for the battery to die.

A lot has changed in 35 years.

I plopped my briefcase at 23 different AT&T desks before starting to work from home in May in 2013.   I worked for AT&T, then Southwestern Bell, then Southwestern Bell Telephone of Texas, then SBC and finally AT&T again.  When I started with the company in 1979, I had to return to my former employer – Remco TV Rental – and swipe a phone book because they were all out at 9051 Park West in Houston.   Calculators were considered a “capital expense” and hard to get, so my creative boss found a company to bill the $100 wonder over three months.

Now any phone book left on our doorstep goes straight into the recycle bin, and if Excel doesn’t total it, I whip out my iPhone.

I was the first in our work group to get an IBM System 36 in 1986, but it wasn’t totally necessary for my job.  Now I die a little inside when my laptop is slow to boot.  It was a red-letter day when I got a speakerphone in 1988 and my unit could cluster around to ask questions of a plant foreman, or an M&P writer.  My friend Kim Soo described its color as “baby poop yellow,” but I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.  Now I am tethered to a headset, and once I log off for the day – forget the phone, I curse every ring.

I don’t miss working in an office.  I surely don’t miss the commute, or the noise, or the odd lighting.  I do miss having friends I can see, though.  Yes, believe it or not, I still have working AT&T friends, and I treasure them.  But I can’t see if their eyes are bloodshot, or if that limp is still bad, or if they’re ducking their heads when they say “it doesn’t matter.”

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(clockwise, l-r)  Vicki (retired), Maggie Bob (retired), Gaye (quit), Me, Lisa (retired), Lisa’s Kristen (grown up), Donnette (quit) and Kim (retired) soon after I went to work for the company.  We used to actually eat lunch – together!  And sometimes dinner, just for fun.  Crazy.

But lots hasn’t changed either.  Not really.

Good managers are still good managers.  And others…well….

My friend Vicki used to say “a good manager can manage anything.”  Oh sure, plenty to quibble with there – but largely, I think she’s right.  And good managers are still good managers.  The kind of people from whom I used to sit across a table during monthly/annual close (Accounting) and know they were doing their jobs so I could do mine – now I just talk to that same type of people on the phone, and we share documents in T-space.   They’re reliable and mean what they say and don’t confuse activity with productivity.  They don’t wait to be told, and they don’t have to bully to get their way.  They’re not afraid to express an idea or an opinion, and they support others that have good ones.

Mechanized means faster, but not necessarily better.

I’ll all for mechanization of tasks, but when it’s not well thought-out, it just means you make more mistakes faster.   So do it right, or don’t do it.  I used to roll my eyes when my mom said, “That’s what you get when you try to hurry.”  Now I understand it.

You still have to look in a mirror.

So your boss used to see you come in, knew when you went to lunch, knew when you went home, etc.  And now so many people are remote – or, like me, working from home, so who really knows?  Well, in my case – I do.  I used to marvel that someone would risk their job by stealing a pair of scissors (jamming down a opened blouse, no less), or falsifying a time report (How many dead grandmothers have you had?!)  Now when I learn someone is a cheater, I am irritated – but I also fear for society.

There’s still a place for fun.

Granted, no more skits, or leaving a Baby Ruth in the toilet bowl for the QWL Manager to find.  But there’s some hilarious stuff posted in Q-rooms, and one joke on a conference call can lessen a lot of tension (of which there is often a prodigious quantity.)  Plus Facebook – yeah, that’s a place lots of us work friends whoop and holler.  I used to say it was harder to get/stay mad at someone I’d met – still true.  But now it’s also harder for me to get/stay mad at someone whose life I share digitally.

Ready or not, here it comes.  There’s always something new to learn.

None of the jobs I’ve done since 1997 existed when I came to work for the company in 1979  – certainly not my current one working with super users and the content of the AT&T Community Forums (which I love, BTW.)  But wow – never get too comfortable.  There’s always a new product, a new organization, a new “something” coming.   I’m not a fan of much hype – don’t tell me how wonderful it is, just tell me how it fits and what I need to do.

You can still do good things.  Or not.

We don’t pass envelopes for baby gifts or funeral sprays any longer – but paypal, hey, it works.   A congratulations or sympathy card mailed to a home address still gets there.  eCards just take a minute to send – and many do.  Kind words are still kind words, whether said in person or by email.  And my AT&T – and/or retired/former AT&T friends – remain the biggest source of selfless gifts to Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child in my world.

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Our game room is now – and will be for a few weeks – an “Operation Christmas Child Disaster Zone.” 

So Happy 35 to me!  And at least five more.  I need that fourth watch, people.

Posted in AT&T, Celebrate, Cyber Life | 11 Comments