The day (I knew) my life changed

laelene Posted in mba,Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
2

I got a call yesterday during dinner, which I forgot about upon getting home. It wasn’t until this morning when I saw the voicemail and decided to listen to it. Imagine my complete surprise when it was Dean of Admissions at Marshall, Evan Bouffides! Can you guess what he said?

I’ve been offered admission!!!

I did not expect a decision until nearly a month from now, so it was really amazing to have a call much earlier than expected. I’ve been going between confident that I must get in because this is my dream and if I feel the win I’ll get it (yeah, not exactly logical) and insecure that I wouldn’t get in because I didn’t apply to enough schools that were within reach and aimed too high. I spent time questioning my choices, wondering how I had presented myself and if it was strong enough. I’d worry about my GPA not being high enough, my story not being strong enough, my future plans and vision not being grand enough, or even my age being a bit too high. You really just don’t know with these things and waiting is the worst part.

Thankfully, just a week after my interview with them, I’ve gotten the fantastic news and now I can breathe a little easier knowing I definitely have a program to join in the fall. I can’t wait to go visit the school during admit weekend! Now I’ll just have to see if any other school offers me admission and see where that leads me. 🙂

Yippee!!!! I’m going to get an MBA!!!

Teavana dragon tea set

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , , , , ,
0

It’s been an arduous two months of trying to fix a situation with Teavana and finally, finally – I have my cast iron tea set! I’ve wanted it for years (I estimate 7 or 8) and with patient evaluation and a lovely gift card from friends, I now own the set I’ve had my eye on. For now I’m just going to enjoy the fact that I have the product at hand, but I’m still dealing with them to resolve the situation to my satisfaction. That will be quite a story for another time.

Let’s enjoy the products, shall we? 🙂 These cast iron items are meant to last a lifetime, so it’s certainly an investment. As you use them, the black is supposed to wear off a bit to reveal some more gold. I’m certainly happy with the quality of the items and the elegant feel of using them. I got the Imperial Dragon teapot because dragons are immensely important to Asian cultures and this is the one that I was attracted to time and time again. Best part? The ways the spout is designed is perfect. It doesn’t spill!

teavana gift bag with gift box, teapot, and tea

My Teavana imperial dragon cast iron teapot and free tea sample.

teavana gift box with ribbon and message

The box the teapot came in, with a message as you open it: Opening the Doors to Health, Wisdom & Happiness

teavana tea cups, warmer, and rock sugar

I ordered the accessories separate from the pot so I could take advantage of a deal. To reach the minimum spend, I ended up getting an extra cup. The rock sugar was the free product for the purchase.

teavana imperial dragon cast iron teapot 44 oz

If you ever go to a Teavana store, you’ll see them using one of these to brew Monkey Picked Oolong tea samples. Now I have my own!

teavana imperial dragon cast iron teapot lid and strainer

Inside, everything is coated in enamel that is supposed to slowly absorb the flavor of the tea and enrich it with each brew. There’s also a stainless steel strainer that reaches pretty much to the bottom of the pot for steeping.

teavana gold cast iron tea cups 4 oz

I got these gold ones to go with the black and gold theme. The cups are also enameled like the pot.

teavana imperial dragon cast iron tea cups 3 oz

These are the matching cups that go with the pot. All these cast iron products are made in Japan.

teavana medium cast iron warmer

I got a medium warmer to keep the pot hot. It’s almost the same size as the base of the teapot so maybe I should have gotten the large.

teavana medium cast iron warmer inside with area for tea light candle

You put a tea light inside and the heat of the flame helps keep your tea heated for hours! It maintains a temp that’s more than warm but not too hot to drink.

teavana peach tranquility tea sample in bag

I got a free ounce of Peach Tranquility when I got the teapot.

teavana monkey picked oolong tea sample in bag

My favorite, the Monkey Picked Oolong. The manager at Teavana gave me this sample for free because she felt so bad that should couldn’t help me. This was about a month into my ordeal.

teavana perfectea belgian brown rock sugar

Here’s a peek at the rock sugar that I got free with the cups & warmer order. It’s supposed to help enhance the flavor of tea without affecting it.

teavana imperial dragon cast iron tea set with teapot, cups, and hidden warmer

And there’s my tea set! As you can see the dragon cups and the gold ones are different sizes – the gold ones are wider and lower with 4 oz capacity while the dragon ones are taller and narrower with 3 oz capacity.

I’ve been using the set for about two weeks now and I’ve really enjoyed it. The flavor of the tea is great and doesn’t ever seem to get bitter as it often does in other scenarios. Something about the cast iron perhaps? I use the flame only when I plan on drinking quite a bit of tea in one sitting. For the most part, I add hot water to the pot and bring a cup to wherever I’m sitting. It makes the experience special every time and I’m so glad I got this. I shouldn’t ever have to replace it!

Down with the flu

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , , , ,
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Has it really been three days since my last post already?! Gosh, I’ve been pretty much bedridden this whole time. I first felt ill last week and began sneezing by Thursday. Friday I was working from home in bed and Saturday and Sunday I hung out inside as the snow piled up and Panda made a few runs at it. I was out sick Monday and Tuesday and will work from home tomorrow. Monday was the worst, when I was feverish with the chills, yet went through bouts of sweat spells. My whole body ached so bad and random nerves would have intense periods of pain. I had a headache the whole time and could hardly breathe much of the time. It was all very bizarre.

The last time I was this ill was two or three years ago, also in winter. I should really start getting flu shots, shouldn’t I? I’ve always had a rather strong immune system and wouldn’t get super sick, so as a child I enjoyed being a bit under the weather and spending the time to rest. However, nowadays my immune system might be weaker, or there may be more sick folks I’m exposed to, or the cold weather could affect me more. I don’t know what exactly, but it certainly is worse than it’s been in a very long time.

On Monday night, I was seriously doubting when I’d get better and imagined that pain extending until Thursday or later. Luckily, I woke up this morning feeling far better. Perhaps it was time and I had sweat enough, or perhaps that Aleve type pill I took did the trick. I had previously been taking a daytime flu thing or Excedrin when the pain was worst. I took less than half the recommended dosage, so that might have been a factor. I just don’t like so much medicine though!

Today I made it outside for the first time since Thursday and we got lunch and a few things at Costco. I was happy to stay inside again for the rest of the day. I don’t understand all those people claiming to have cabin fever not even 24 hours into the storm this weekend when I was inside for 5 days without a problem. Are you less likely to experience cabin fever if you’re sick and want to curl up in bed? I don’t think I would have felt it either way, since we luckily had no power outages in the area and I could easily use my devices or read with a light. For the most part, I took it easy and rested.

My head’s still cloudy and I’ve been coughing something nasty all day, but I’m well enough to get some work done from bed again tomorrow. We have a cool event on Thursday at the Australian Embassy, but I’m not sure I’ll be well enough to make it out. Too bad!

Blizzard 2016!

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
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Well, we’re almost done with this major storm of the season and it’s been pretty crazy! I happened to start getting sick this week and by Thursday, I was coughing and sneezing constantly. I was glad that we didn’t go to work on Friday and began to hunker down for the storm. All day today I’ve been coughing and trying to stay warm, but I don’t think I’ve made much progress. I did go out a few times to peek at the snow building up. Here’s a look at some pics!

snow level on cars before blizzard 2016

It started around 1pm Friday for us in Loudoun/Fairfax Counties.

snow level on cars one hour into blizzard 2016

An hour into it, we were seeing accumulation.

snow level on cars four hours into blizzard 2016

Three hours later, everything was pretty white.

snow level on cars seventeen hours into blizzard 2016

I woke up at 6 today to find the cars disappearing.

snow level on cars twenty-seven hours into blizzard 2016

27 hours in and the cars can hardly be found.

snow level on cars thirty hours into blizzard 2016

They’re pretty encased, but the wind keeps moving snow around.

snowblower pieces on ground with cable previously caught in blade

The first time Panda used his new snowblower, he ran over the power cable and we spent a long time taking it apart to release the cable.

man pushing snowblower outside on driveway during blizzard 2016

It works quite well, but then the blizzard would blow the snow right back.

snow crusting on windows and screens during blizzard 2016

The wind pummeled snow onto the windows and it became hard to see outside.

snow gathering on porch during blizzard 2016

The porch even got a fair amount of snow.

snow in plastic buckets/tubs to clear porch during blizzard 2016

To remove the snow from the porch, we began to take buckets of it to the bathtub so our neighbor below wouldn’t get all the stuff we swept off.

snow piled in tub during blizzard 2016

Melting snow in the tub!

cat pawprints on cleaned porch during blizzard 2016

Smokey took the opportunity to enjoy the newly cleaned porch.

sidewalk shoveled and recovered by blizzard 2016

Our neighbors were very diligent in shoveling their sidewalk every few hours only to have the snow blown back.

man crawling on belly in deep snow during blizzard 2016

One neighbor found it easier to crawl out to the road.

snow drifts by front door from blizzard 2016

The wind blew a ton of snow to our front door area!

partially-shoveled snow accumulation of blizzard 2016

Panda began to shovel a path out to the driveway.

blizzard 2016 piling snow past windows

On the right is our neighbor’s front door area, which is completely snowed in.

surrounded by high piles of snow from blizzard 2016

So much snow! I was hoping for more than 3 feet, which it is around me, but out in the open areas it was about 27.3 inches.

My MBA application experience 

laelene Posted in mba,Tags: , , , , ,
1

A little over two months ago, I finally decided to buckle down and apply for grad school. Deadlines for Round 2 applications were the first and second week of January. I wasn’t sure if the time I’d allotted myself was going to be tight, but it was time to take this next step. Here’s how it’s gone for me… (want to skip right to my tips at the end?)

Choosing the schools

I knew that I wanted to apply to 5-6 programs, so I began looking at the top 25 ranked in the US. I considered applying to international programs as well, but ultimately decided not to because I intend to work for businesses in the states. While I would love international opportunities, my home base will always come back to the US, so going to a school domestically made more sense.

From the initial list, I came out with the programs I was most interested in: #1 Stanford GSB, #2 Harvard Business School, #3 UPenn Wharton, #4 Chicago Booth, #6 Northwestern Kellogg, #7 Berkeley Haas, #10 UVA Darden, #15 UCLA Anderson, #24 Georgetown McDonough, and #25 USC Marshall. Whew, that’s a lot! So I started narrowing down based on program structure, competitiveness, and personal appeal. That still left 8 options. I managed to eliminate Wharton and Booth because they felt more technical/finance-focused. To me, Wharton, Booth, and Kellogg were at very similar levels, so I decided to choose one of the three.

It was really hard for me to bring it down to the 6 max that I wanted to adhere to, so I kept going back and forth for awhile until I realized that I was really including Darden and McDonough for their proximity to Panda. But if you think about it, MBAs are so time-consuming that being nearby might not mean I have much time to see him anyway. So off they went and there was my final list: Stanford, Harvard, Kellogg, Haas, Anderson, and Marshall. I wanted to maintain a good spread across the rankings to give myself a very good chance of making it into at least one of the programs. #fingerscrossed

Preparing to apply

I’m fortunate enough to know some current and former MBA students at programs that I was planning on applying to. I reached out to many of them and got a chance to connect with three. After spending some time chatting with each of them, I got an understanding that I should really share my personal story. They also recommended reaching out to students or alumni of the other programs and try to do campus visits if possible.

I did manage to do some student meetups and a campus tour, but for the most part, I scoured their websites for details. Based on the courses they offer, the extracurriculars, and how they message their ideas, it gave me a sense of each of their brands. There are parts of each that I really appreciate and would love to be a part of. I definitely think it’s important to find programs that I’ll enjoy and will attract people I can connect with and learn from. Each has their own prestige, so that’s helpful too.

Thinking about essays

The very first thing I did application-wise was compile all of the essay questions and think about them all day long. Whenever an idea struck me, I wrote it down and I kept expanding my notes as I drafted and edited my essays. These were the most labor-intensive, with a lot of reflection and self-analysis. It took me awhile to finally find what I felt was a cohesive story that explained my motivations for where I’m going and how where I’ve been influenced that path.

On the surface, my jobs have been somewhat progressive, but not along a clear career path. However, digging deeper, I noticed that so many of the projects I took on stemmed from the same source. It turns out that the common thread between my roles was always the idea of empowering through resources. I really enjoy helping people and being resourceful, so I consolidated resources and built databases and processes because I believe that giving people the right tools, skills and knowledge empowers them to strive for more. No matter what, that has always driven me in my work.

As part of my research for applications, I dove into a variety of business books, online articles, and even TV shows. Each tied back to my thoughts on my essays. When I watched The Voice, I thought about expressing my true self and being genuine. When I read Uncontainable, I noted my own values and the key ways I intend to change the corporate landscape. Everything tied back to my philosophies on life and how that applied to my approach to business.

Choosing recommenders

I had always had one person in mind as a recommender, because he had worked with me pretty much since I started at my current company. He had a good sense of the many projects that I’ve done and we collaborated on quite a few. What I waffled on at first was whether to ask my direct supervisor or someone else. What if knowing that I was slowly on my way out affected the opportunities I received at work? What if that changed their perception of me? I thought about choosing someone else, but then I decided that I’d rather my manager know now instead of having to explain to him months down the line what I’d been up to. Plus, my office is a supportive environment where reaching for a goal like this is applauded.

I asked both gentlemen as soon as I made up my mind on them and my schools. Both happily agreed, and I put together a document of bullet points to share with them. I split my notes into two categories: Leadership & Initiative and Teamwork. I felt these were the key components of my experience and encapsulated many things I had done. One of my MBA friends had shared a “recommender tips” document that he had used, which I repurposed and shared with my recommenders. It basically summarized to this: the most effective recommendations are ones with concrete examples that paint a picture so vivid that the reader can feel me jumping out of the page.

I registered for all the applications and set up my recommenders to give them ample time to fill them out. One thing I learned from this is to make it crystal clear that some schools have a very specific format and set of questions they want answered. A general letter will not do. The recommenders should be prepared for the amount of effort this will take on their part. In addition to the essays, there are evaluation grids to fill out. It’s no simple task and you shouldn’t be shy about following up. Stay on top of those recommenders!

Filling out the applications

I probably should have done a dry run through all the applications early on so I would know what to prepare. For Haas, they require copies of official transcripts, which I did not have on hand. When I tried to order them from my school, they were on winter break and would only return two days before the application deadline! So I had to rush the order and ask my mom to go get them from the school. At another point, I wasn’t sure if my Kellogg application would be accepted because my GMAT scores had not been sent to the school and they needed them by the deadline! Yikes! But it turns out that they are actually ok with the scores being available later as long as they can view them when they get to my application.

To avoid any last-minute efforts, definitely go through the applications to see what fields they have and what required documentation there is. I was so caught up in essays that I figured filling out the forms would be easy, but they actually took quite a long time. You have to manually type in your previous job and extracurricular experience, which can add up quickly when you’ve had a few. Plus, there are certain documents that you may not have prepared that you should be aware of.

There were parts that I didn’t really think would come up, like my parents’ education, my international experience, and even my hobbies. I expected things like work experience, awards and honors, as well as extracurricular activities. The rest was pretty random additional information that varied by school. Stanford even asked for your favorite word!

Check, check, check!

So once you’ve got all these pieces together, make sure you have at least one other person take a look at your applications. I had my trusty husband go through and point out weak areas for me. He also kept an eye out for minor errors/typos after I’d been staring at everything for too long. Give yourself enough time to input all the data and proofread at least two or three times. You want to be as professional as possible and any grammatical error or typo can work against you.

When you’re ready to submit (at least hours, if not a day or more before the deadline), make sure you get confirmation emails that your application was received and so was your payment. You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity because of a glitch or because you forgot to pay the fee. Oh yeah, you’ll want to be ready to pay about $150-275 per application. That adds up fast!

For Kellogg, they had one more step after the application was submitted: the video essays. So if your program has something like that, make sure you spend time rehearsing. The program they use allows you to practice with the software until you’re comfortable, so I must have done it 20 times until my eye contact was steady and my answers could fit into the allotted 60 seconds. It’s amazing how shifty you can seem on your first try, so neeever jump right into it.

Once you’re all done, each application usually allows you to download a proof as a PDF, which I definitely recommend you do. Keep that for your records, so you can use it if there are any discrepancies. Plus, it helps you remember what you sent them!

 

So, these are the tips I have for the process up until those applications are submitted:

-When choosing which programs to apply to, go through each school’s websites to learn as much as you can. Try to keep your choices to 6 or you might be stretched too thin (and your recommenders won’t give up on filling out so many!).

-Sign up for their mailing lists ASAP so you know if there are local students you can meet or if/when an admission officer will be in your area. This is a great way to evaluate schools and learn things that can help with how you focus your application. Each program values different things and each school has a different culture.

-Take the GMAT/GRE before all the application madness if possible, so it’s one less thing to worry about.

-Read carefully through requirements. Do they need a GMAT score or do they accept GRE as well? Do they require scores to be sent or can you self-report for now? Do they need official transcripts sent or are unofficial transcripts acceptable initially? Prep these early as needed.

-Think about the narrative you’re going to tell. It’s hard to distill everything you’ve done and who you are into a neat package, but choose that one trait that best sums it up. Look at the work you’ve done, the activities you’ve been involved in, and even your personal background to connect the dots. A cohesive story makes the picture clearer and easier to digest.

-Based on your narrative, choose recommenders who can speak to the work you’ve done around what you’re focusing on. Put together some examples that the recommenders can choose to write about, which may differ greatly depending on your interactions with them. The more they can personalize it and relate it back to your theme (as well as tie it in to what matters to the school), the more impactful they will be.

-Follow up with your recommenders to make sure things are on track! If one of them needs to change, you want ample time to swap them out.

-Go through all the fields that each application requires. This will give you a sense of extra materials you’ll need to pull together, like your parents’ educational histories, your extracurriculars, any awards or recognition, or even international experience. The UCLA Anderson app had a paragraph to summarize hobbies and the Kellogg app asked for international experience as well as video essays. Know about these ahead of time so you’re prepared! Even the way they ask you to fill out work info varies greatly, so take a peek at how that’s structured.

-Start setting aside the amount of money you’ll need for the fees if you don’t have that readily available. Most seem to be $150-275. There are some cases where you can get the fee waived, so if you’re really strapped for cash, see if you qualify for any.

-I would allocate at least 10 days per app at the least, giving yourself time to have a breather when things were intense and you needed some time away from staring at these applications.

-Proofread your application a few times and have at least one other person go through the final version if you can.

-Submit your application well ahead of the deadline! I did them all the day before, so if anything went awry, I’d have the following day to figure it out.

-Be sure to get confirmation emails that your application was submitted AND payment was received. Otherwise you might not make it into the round you want!

 

Any other tips you’d share? Let me know! Now I’m just waiting to hear back on interviews…

Finding myself

laelene Posted in mba,Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
0

As I apply to MBA programs, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching. All this introspection makes me take time to really consider what it is that matters to me and what sort of person I want to become. It’s a great exercise that I feel like we should all do more often.

So as Stanford GSB asks, what matters to me and why? So many things come to mind: empowerment, collaboration, change, balance, diversity/uniqueness, fulfillment, compassion. Each of these because of how they enable us to improve our lives, to be better versions of ourselves. Ultimately, I think it boils down to empowerment. When people are empowered through education or resources or connections, they can take themselves to a better place bit by bit. And aren’t we all pursuing incremental improvements that will culminate into a life that we can look back on and be pleased with?

For years, I’ve yearned to find my calling. I’d watch shows, read articles, and hear interviews of successful people following their passion as if answering a calling. Many of them spoke about how they’ve always felt the deep desire to (fill in the blank). Meanwhile, I searched and searched for my calling. Was it animals? Nature? Photography? Travel? Blogging? Entrepreneurism? So many options seemed compelling, but no single one stood out to me above the others. I was trying so hard to get a little bit of everything I wanted.

Recently, in writing my essays for my MBA applications, I’ve finally figured it out. What is it that I can spend hours reading about, thinking about, talking about? Sure I love animals and I volunteer with insects, I take photos all the time and love getting that amazing shot, and I have been blogging for years… but I don’t engross myself in science articles or photo editing or blogging tips the way I do business articles and interviews.

When it comes to business – in particular, management principles, hiring practices, and above all – culture, I am obsessed. For me, culture drives everything. Culture determines the type of people you attract, the way they behave (and therefore the output they’ll create), the effectiveness of your brand, etc. etc. etc. I literally devour everything I find mentioning anything related to company culture, hiring, and training. I could sit (or stand, or walk) and talk about ideas around these concepts for days. I constantly have new thoughts that I add to my every-growing ideas document.

While I often get distracted by the many other things I am passionate for, I don’t spend nearly as much time and energy on any of those topics. This is how I know that the thing I would get up in the morning for above all else is the opportunity to cultivate an amazing and likely unconventional culture. To do that, I want my vehicle of change to be empowerment. By creating mechanisms through which people are empowered with the knowledge or resources or contacts they need, I can help them become better people. Better people thrive and feed into a culture that is supportive, collaborative, and empowering. And thus the cycle goes, building upon itself and sustaining itself even as it grows.

I’m still finding myself, but this time spent being self-reflective has given me a lot of insight into who I am and who I aspire to be. I’m starting to notice the patterns in my life that draw from an underlying current that I hadn’t observed before. All these seemingly disparate choices have come together to paint a clearer picture of what motivates me. I have gained confidence in what I should do with my life because I can now see the forces that have been there all along, creating the themes that define me. Now I just hope I can clearly articulate to the admissions committee!

iCloud, you’re dead to me

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses, stories,Tags: , , , ,
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May I rant a bit? It’s been weeks since my iCloud backup worked and Apple support didn’t solve my problem. I’ve given up on using it and I’m so frustrated with Apple.

It began a couple of weeks ago. With one of the iOS 9 updates, everything went awry. My backups used to take up about 3.3-3.5 GB worth of space and then suddenly I was getting an error message pretty much daily, telling me I didn’t have enough space in iCloud. So I try deleting the current backup to free up the 5 GB of space and trying again with no success. I thought the issue was that the photo backup got turned back on, so I tried turning it off. Sometimes it would straight up give me an error message that it couldn’t be turned off at that time and sometimes it would look like I had turned it off, but then got undone the next time I went back.

After much troubleshooting and trying tons of things, I finally booked an appointment at the Apple Store. Coming out of that appointment, I’ve decided to write off iCloud entirely. As it turns out, it is completely useless to me (unless I want to pay). I was passed from one person to the next and ultimately dealt with four different people, two in the store and two on the phone. They ended up telling me that my options were to either pay for more storage or do manual backups to the computer. Let me tell you, I was not a happy camper when that’s all they could come up with.

screenshot of icloud backup screen with options

What’s the point of turning off Photo Library if supposedly you can’t turn off photos in iCloud? I still don’t believe those folks knew what they were talking about.

My greatest problem with what happened was that my backups were well within the limit for years. Suddenly, the space needed for the backup jumps up to nearly triple the amount of space for no reason? It’s not like I suddenly started sending a lot of text messages, taking a lot of pictures, or downloading a lot of new apps. I had no spike in activity, so therefore I expect no spike in the storage space. Not a single one of them could explain that to me. Furthermore, they said that my photos were always backed up and I couldn’t turn that off. Then what in the world is the Backup Options list with Photo Library as an option for?! And how could I have EVER successfully backed up when I know I’ve had way more than 5 GB in photos alone all these years? Yet somehow, I’m expected to believe that it magically worked all along and a good 10-15 GB of photos were able to squeeze themselves into a 3.5 GB backup.

I guess what bothered me the most was the complete lack of logic in how things could have worked before and how they could have changed so drastically without explanation. Telling me that, “Well if you just buy the extra storage then this wouldn’t be an issue,” is not going to help. Of course I know I can PAY you to get more storage. And I don’t care how small the cost is, it’s the principal of the matter that it worked before and now it doesn’t. What sort of technology gets worse as it updates?

So many other problems came up too, all with no sensible explanation. Why did an attempted backup fail yet still take up 3 GB of space? “It tried to back up some of the data.” Why wouldn’t that try to take up the whole 5 GB? Why does it stop at 3 GB each time? (No idea.) Why does Next Backup Size say 0 bytes and all apps say No Data? Does that mean nothing gets backed up? Then how could I not have enough space for nothing?! And on and on and on…

So because of that, iCloud is dead to me. Yet ironically, as I write this and look at my phone settings, iCloud backup is magically working again. Photos off, backup at 3.1 GB. I can’t trust those Apple people to know anything about their products.

A freezing office was killing our productivity

laelene Posted in general blog, lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , , ,
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For months, the temperature of the office was almost a daily topic of discussion. It was always freezing for at least half of us, and a comfortable cool for the others. It got to the point where I had to wear at least two jackets in the office (which was pretty ridiculous considering it was blazing hot outside). Why waste all that energy to overcompensate for the external heat? Why does it always get SO cold in offices in the summer? It’s really counterproductive.

I would spend my days chugging hot water. The moment I stopped, I’d feel the numbing cold and have trouble focusing on anything else. It was dreadful to spend so much of my work hours uncomfortable and even in pain at times. Those of us who were cold were constantly thinking about how to stay warm, which couldn’t have been good for our productivity. I mean, I actually brought in a blanket that I put on my chair and wrapped around my legs when I worked. Many of us had little heaters at our desks as well, but after one blew a fuse, they weren’t allowed anymore.

Every couple of days, our office manager would call in the maintenance guys who would tell us everything was fine and the temperature was not abnormally low. Tell that to our icy cold hands. Finally, one day one of the sales folks joked about it being like a meat locker in the office – were we trying to keep raw meat from going bad? That sparked a discussion about how insanely cold it was and I shared an article about productivity in warmer temperatures. Some quotes from that article:

When our body’s temperature drops, we expend energy keeping ourselves warm, making less energy available for concentration, inspiration, and insight.

A forthcoming paper from researchers at UCLA even shows that brief exposure to warmer temperatures leads people to report higher job satisfaction.

When we experience warmth, we experience trust. And vice versa.

We know that cold temperatures worsen productivity. What new research is showing is that it can also corrode the quality of our relationships.

Great workplaces aren’t simply the product of good organizational policies. They emerge when employees connect with one another and form meaningful relationships that engender trust. What’s often overlooked is that connections don’t operate in a vacuum.

It seems obvious that the temperature of a restaurant or theater can alter our experience. So why do we continue to neglect it in the workplace?

It makes sense after all, since if you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the very basis of survival includes physiological needs. How could be possibly expect to be able to operate well in relationships and higher level thinking and work if we couldn’t even satisfy the innate need for body function? Obviously our resources would be redirected towards trying to alleviate that unmet need, not leaving much room for the work we were supposed to be doing.

After this rather lengthy discussion, complete with pictures of how people were piling on the layers to combat the cold, we finally got the thermostat changed. Suddenly, I could wear only one jacket, and a light one at that! Sometimes after drinking my mug of hot water I could even take off the jacket momentarily. It was amazing and immediately lifted the mood of all those who had been freezing before. Now temperature is hardly a consideration at work. Sometimes the office still feels cold, but not nearly as bad. Hopefully it will continue to stay at a steady 74 degrees or higher. Those who didn’t mind the cold before certainly don’t seem to be too hot in this new temperature.

I’m much happier and can actually focus on work without having to consider how to stay warm throughout the day. It’s pretty incredible that something pretty simple took so long to fix (and that it feels oh so rewarding). I no longer yearn to work from home just so I could feel my fingers when I type. Isn’t that glorious?

A soufflé dining adventure

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses, photo blog,Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
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While in Paris, Panda and I were looking for a popular and special place to have dinner. With much searching, he came across Le Soufflé – offering a completely soufflé experience. They had a three-course meal that was all soufflés!

We eagerly walked there after a long day of exploring and stepped inside to a cozy little entry. A gentleman approached and asked if we had a reservation. We did not, so we wondered what the wait would be.

“I’m sorry, we are booked for the rest of the evening,” he told us.

“When’s the next time you have an opening?” we inquired.

“All reservations for the night are taken,” he explained. “You can make a reservation for tomorrow lunch.”

Disappointed, we stepped out and considered our options for our meal. It was past 9 and many restaurants were closing within the hour. We returned to the hotel to get online and search for somewhere else with soufflés.

With little success, we went to ask the concierge. He immediately recommended the restaurant we had been turned away from. We started telling him how they were booked, but he was already dialing their number. At first it seemed like they might give us a reservation, but then he started shaking his head. Fully booked. :-/

So he began calling a variety of other options asking if they at least served dessert soufflé. Finally, one place said yes – but it was not walking distance and we did not want to take a taxi. So as things looked more and more dismal, I was about ready to just eat at the hotel. Then, out of the blue, the concierge tells us we can go to Le Soufflé!

What?! We were confused. Apparently he had called them two more times and they had a cancellation, so we got in! We quickly rushed over the half mile or so to the restaurant and arrived aright round 10.

At first we planned on getting a set each, but upon seeing the size of the soufflés, we decided to share a single three-course meal. It was 37€ so we were happy to save on the cost too.

le souffle contact card with map of location

le souffle free bread, butter, and water to start the meal

We began with bread, butter, and water included in the meal.

le souffle artichoke & haddock appetizer souffle

The appetizer soufflé was the artichoke haddock, with pieces of both. It was very savory with that fish taste and a slight hint of tartness from the artichoke.

le souffle side salad

The side salad came with the first course.

le souffle chicken & mushroom main course souffle

Our main course was the chicken and mushroom. The chicken gravy came separately and we poured it bit by bit as we ate the soufflé. It reminded me of a chicken pot pie (which I had been craving) with a soft, fluffy top rather than a flaky crust.

le souffle chocolate dessert souffle

And to wrap it up was a classic chocolate soufflé, which came with a chocolate sauce to pour in. There was a graininess to it that I quite enjoyed. It was very sweet!

This was a fun dining experience and the meal felt very satisfying, even with such light food. I think ait’s  great thing to try for anyone new to the city. 🙂

The Italian way of life

laelene Posted in general blog, lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , , , , , ,
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After Panda and I got to spend some time in Rome and the surrounding area, we learned a lot about Italian culture. I don’t seem to remember much of it from my first time in the country, either because I didn’t experience things the same, didn’t notice that time around, or forgot after all these years. I mean, it’s been 8 years! So here are some observations about how Italians seem to live their lives – while I still remember them all.

-They say “prego” a lot. Apparently this is a word that can mean many things in many contexts, so it is both highly useful for those who know it and highly confusing for those who don’t. Half the time I was wondering what the prego was supposed to imply in each given situation. The only one I got a hang of was when service folks used it to see if you needed anything. I’m pretty sure Panda used it a few times at times when it made no sense. 😛

-There are a lot of smokers, everywhere. At least they are on the streets and not inside! I’d forgotten how many more smokers you encounter on the streets of Europe and it’s really rather unpleasant. I’m always holding my breath, ducking clouds of smoke, and hoping I don’t stink of it myself by the end of the day.

roma trastavere train station in rome-Public transportation (and life) seems pretty lax. We got on many a train where our tickets weren’t checked at all. Not sure if the underground metro worked the same since we never ended up using that. The schedule generally works well, but the last night, we had a train that was 85 minutes late! At one point I found myself wondering why I wasn’t upset and why nobody else seemed upset either. That also seems to go with the generally lax approach. For us, it was because we were on vacation and just heading back to the hotel. No need to fret. For locals, perhaps they never even considered it a problem.

-Personal space is either nonexistent or like a one-inch radius from your body. I had multiple instances where people got too close for comfort, but they didn’t seem to notice a thing. At first it was just a couple who sat at the same bar stool area that Panda and I were eating at in McDonald’s (yes, we tried a local one). Out of all of the empty areas in the restaurant, they chose to be two seats away from us at the same table. I would have gotten a table to ourselves. Then there was a guy on the bus who swayed with the turns of the vehicle. Sometimes that meant bumping into me, despite the fact that he had a good two feet in front of him and even more to the sides. It was especially cringe-worthy because he reeked of cigarette smells. He also managed to brush hands with Panda when they were holding the same pole. At our stop, we both got off relieved to have some breathing room. Finally, there were the people who sat directly behind us on a long bench even though the entire rest of it was empty. And it was a loooong bench! I mean, you could easily seat at least 20 people on each side. Why did they have to come back to back with us, leaving just inches between our bodies? I don’t get it. Maybe I’m too Americanized. Funny enough though, this is something I expect in Asia, so I might not even notice it there.

-Street performers and hawkers are abound. Tons of musicians will perform all over the place and random people walk up to you casually selling battery packs for your devices, selfie sticks, flowers, or toys. For these type of people, the best policy for me has been no eye contact. Once you give them attention, they won’t leave you alone!

-In Rome for sure, but maybe more of Italy, they have little water spigots all over the place, which act as water fountains. The water never stops running out of them and you can go grab a few sips or fill up your water bottle at any of them. In fact, I remember my tour guide from my previous visit mentioning that all water fountains in Rome have drinking water – except Trevi Fountain. So hey, you really can’t go thirsty, can you?

And when it comes to food, oh my! What a difference…

italian outdoor seating on roads-First of all, they have some interesting outdoor seating. Oftentimes it’s a few tables and chairs that are actually on the road, off the curb. In more busy areas, they have a little barrier to create a sort of “room” for people to sit in. This would be life-threatening in the states, but in Italy it’s the norm!

-Just about every restaurant has morning and evening hours, with a break in the middle. Between 3-7, your meal options are very limited, so if you like to have dinner at 5 or 6, you better do your research. Dinners start late and go late in this part of the world. Personally, I’d rather eat earlier and get home.

-As you get each course, they tend to take away the food of the previous course. It seems irrelevant if you’ve still got a hunk of food on your plate. At first we were startled by this, but now I make sure to explain that I haven’t finished. I’m partial to eating a little bit of each course and switching between more than one at a time. This is why I love tapas, izakaya, dim sum, etc.

-This is the land of “beware what you ask for.” They tend to charge for all things, including bread, water, and sometimes even olive oil. If you really don’t care for it, don’t ask for it! Just say no (or no thanks).

ristochicco fettucine and roasted potatoes

I wanted fettucine with a tomato-based sauce, but they only offered a cream-based one that night.

-Menus are quite set (little to no flexibility to request modifications to a dish) and very seasonal – to the point that it’s a day to day, hour to hour kind of thing. That means that you can look forward to much fresher options, but it also means that the awesome picture you saw on Yelp may not be applicable to your visit. (Yes, that happened to me. Sad times.) I’ve seen some restaurants with very strict rules on ordering with no straying from exactly how the dishes are offered. The chefs are in control and rather finicky too. I’m not used to such particular ways and it doesn’t bode well for a picky eater like myself.

-Service is always slow. I’m not sure if it’s because of the relaxed pace of life or the fact that these establishments appear perpetually understaffed. Or if they’re “understaffed” by American standards because everyone takes it slow and they don’t need to go any faster. Either way, we’ve had to plan extra time for meals because we know it will take forever to get our order in, get leftovers boxed, and finally receive and pay our bill.

So there you go! Some of the lessons learned from our observations of how Italians do things. Have you experienced this too? What did I miss in my list?

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