Saturday, November 30, 2013

Answers and Questions

Sometimes, getting good customer service is really all about knowing the right answers - and the right questions.

I was helping my folks do some shipping, today, at a UPS Store, and we had three packages to ship and were in a bit of a hurry. Luckily, there was no one in the store in front of us, so as I walked in with the first box, I set it on the counter, saying "We've got three boxes." Which was met with "All going to the same place?"

I had no idea, so I waited until Dad brought the next one in before I said "Yep."

The transaction probably could have taken ten minutes or more, but since I've shipped with them numerous times, I knew which answers to give before the questions were asked. We breezed through the address labels. We sailed through the "what's inside?" questions. We even aced the "when should they get there?" question.

We were out of the store in about 5 minutes.

When we got to the car, Mom asked if we'd gotten it all taken care of, or if we had forgotten something.

This time of year, it can be massively frustrating to be on either side of a customer service counter. I love when I'm in a position to give the right answers, ask the right questions, and still be able to non-sarcastically smile on the way out the door.

Here's hoping that this is the start of an actually festive seasonal trend.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful for... Joy

There are so many ways in which being jaded is just the easy way to go. Not being emotional can often be easier than wearing your heart on your sleeve. Granted, I know these things more from the outside than from actually experiencing them for myself. "Emotionless" is seldom a word anyone would use to describe me.

Don't get me wrong - I'm totally jaded when it comes to a lot of things. Like politics. Or most of reality TV. But Christopher will attest to the fact that extremes of happiness or sadness pretty much show themselves whether I want them to or not.

Although there are times when I'd prefer to be a bit more Midwestern stoic, there are also times when I'm okay with the fact that I get emotional at Hallmark commercials or Christmas Folgers commercials or even the occasional (and, sadly, rare) well-turned phrase in pieces I work on at work. And I enjoy seeing that same level of emotional investment in other people.

Today, while watching the NBC coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, I got to see the two different sides of things - the blase and the blissful - all in one segment.

If you don't already know this, the NBC coverage always has performances from a few Broadway shows in front of Macy's prior to the parade entering Herald Square. This year, one of those performances was by the cast of Pippin, and the performance started with Pippin (the title character) sitting in the audience singing the first song.

(For some reason, I can't get the video to link into this, so you'll have to click here if you want to see it.) (Believe me, you want to see it. So if the link doesn't work, copy and paste this into your browser:

If you opted not to watch the clip, here's what happened: As he started, the people around him were obviously focused on the camera filming them, and not looking at the singer at all.

His first move put him between some probably-teenage parade-goers, and they did a kind of basic (staged) hand slap, but seemed kind of baffled by what was going on. They obviously knew they were on TV, but they didn't seem to care that this guy singing with them was a Broadway leading man.

Finally, Pippin landed in the front row, and the young girl who was sitting just a few feet from him had a look on her face that kind of said "OHMIGOD! That's Pippin! And he's singing and he's RIGHT THERE!" She seemed to be moments away from breaking out into tears of joy. Seeing her made me *so* happy. (If you watch the video, you'll see her show up in her polka dot hat at about 1m20s, and the look on her face hits its apex at about 1m29s, as she puts her glove over her mouth.)

I realized right then that one of the things I am most thankful for is that, as Christopher would put it, I am a five-year-old at heart. I get excited about little things. And I love joy - both my own, and that of others.

And so, today, I am thankful for joy. May we all have a lot of it in the year to come.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Someone I know commented, today, that it was "Tuednesday" - and I kind of love that word.

If you're not familiar with the idea, it's a Tuesday in the middle of a three-day workweek. So it is the "Wednesday" of the week, even though it's only Tuesday, hence "Tuednesday."

I guess you could also look at it as "Tuersday" or "Thuesday," since it's also the second-to-last day of the workweek, but there's something kind of glorious about the look of the word "Tuednesday" that just speaks to me deep inside my word-loving brain.

I hope you had a lovely Tuednesday. I know that I, personally, am looking forward to "Wedriday"... "Wednesriday"... "Fridnesday"... ah, hell... I'm looking forward to the weekend starting after work tomorrow, whatever you call it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

8/28 Cooking Challenge - Ebelskivers

I cannot believe that it has been over 3 months since my last 8/28 Cooking Challenge post. What makes it even more ridiculous is that I've known what I was going to make for almost that entire time.

For my birthday this year, I was given Ebelskivers: Filled Pancakes and Other Mouthwatering Miniatures by a friend of mine who was generous enough to also give me the appropriate aebelskiver (it's pronounced /able-skeever/, and the traditional spellings I've seen typically start with that "a") pan and tools. Since it was time for another recipe from a new cookbook, I did the calculations and came out with a recipe for Dark Chocolate Sauce, which I figured I would accompany with a recipe for "basic" aebelskivers. For no obvious reasons, the book and pan have been sitting in the kitchen for the past 3 months. But we've been doing things like travelling and being social, and I've simply never had the time to devote to a cooking post.

This morning, after a blissful sleep-in enabled by Christopher taking care of the pooch, I got up and was trying to figure out what I was hungry for. Christopher suggested that I just go ahead and make the aebelskivers, since we didn't have anywhere we had to be, so I didn't need to hurry.

So I did.

Now, one of the things that takes time in the posts is buying the ingredients. Since I hadn't planned in advance, we were missing two things: heavy cream and whole milk. I figured there was a good change that the Dark Chocolate Sauce might turn out wrong with milk instead of cream, but that the batter would probably be fine with skim instead of whole milk. So I kept the batter in mind, but swapped the Chocolate Dipping Sauce for the Dark Chocolate Sauce.

And away we go...

You can see the specialized pan in the middle, with the two sticks you can use to turn the Aebelskivers. (See below)

Okay, so, first we make the sauce... (Sorry for the blur factor. Not sure why the  camera seemed to feel like the counter was moving...) 
Yeah... The simple syrup took about 90 seconds to clarify - not 3 minutes. And then I whisked in the cocoa.
Not gonna lie. I love putting vanilla into hot liquids and watching them boil up. There's a Christmas cookie I make that does this, and every year it makes me happy.

Once the Chocolate Dipping Sauce was done, I simply slid it off to the side of the stove and left it in the pan, then went on to make the batter.

Top bowl: Dry ingredients; Middle bowl: Egg whites; Bottom bowl: Wet ingredients.
The recipe called for using an electric hand mixer to whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. It was only two egg whites, so I just did it by hand.
Final step - folding in the egg whites.
Start by filling the wells about 2/3 full. (I learned as I went along that putting in more batter was better, because they got puffier and rounder, instead of kind of flat.)
Use the tools (or two skewers) to flip them once the first side is browned.
If you want to fill them, you put in a little dollop of filling (in this case strawberry jam) and then cover that with just enough batter to seal it.
If you flip the filled ones right, you kind of get a "jelly donut" look.
Once you're done, they kind look like this. (The pan actually only makes 7 at a time.)
Aebleskiver "bowl" with chocolate filling. :-)
So... What did we think?

Well... If I had to choose between making "regular" pancakes or making plain aebelskivers, I'd probably actually choose the pancakes. They're less futzy, and they're bigger, so you don't need to make as many to fill yourself up.

However, that said, I'm sure that with practice I'd get much faster. And - more to my liking - the cookbook has a ton of other recipes in it. Things like spinach and goat cheese appetizers, or crab-cake-style aebelskivers. Those I feel like I could make in advance and keep warm for a party.

I'm definitely going to try them again, sometime. Just probably not at 9:30 in the morning, when all I really want is something to eat.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Things I Don't Do At Work

Having offered up, on Wednesday, a description of the things that I do do at work, I thought that, tonight, I might offer up a few of the things I don't do at work.

I started thinking about this a couple of days ago, when I was hearing what the office Christmas party was going to be like. (Yes, the company is owned by someone who is Jewish, but we still have a Christmas party. It is what it is.)

This year, the party is being expanded a bit. There's going to be the annual pot luck lunch. And there's going to be the yearly "Yankee gift swap." And we're adding in an ugly sweater contest and karaoke. (Oh, and booze, and invited guests arriving any time after 5pm.)

In the midst of the discussion, I started to realize that there are some things that I either don't do, or completely downplay at work.

For instance:

We all know that I bake a lot. I also cook a decent amount. And I'm pretty good at it. But, at work, there are two or three other people who are the ones known for baking. No one even looks to me when they talk about baked goods, because I've never brought in a decorated cake. I brought a salad to the last pot luck. The plus side? Although I know I could do better than a couple of the other people, at least I don't get asked to bake for birthdays.

We've also discussed (you and I) that I used to be involved in theater. Some acting, some dancing, lots of singing. But that is a side of my personality that no one seems to notice at work. Even worse, when karaoke was mentioned, my immediate thought was that I would have to try to stay out of the way when people were singing so that I wouldn't have to perform. When did that happen?

One of the less-normal annoyances comes in in the fact that all sorts of instructional/teaching materials are being created at the moment in the office. By the marketing team. The mostly-online sales and marketing team. I've got experience in instructional design, teaching, and even a little bit of recording. But will that be put to use in the office? No.

A while back, I was joking around with a co-worker and said something which was just a tad "blue." And she laughed really hard. I apologized, even so, and she said "Don't apologize, I like that side of you!"

Why is it so hard to let that side of me out in the office? Well, you kind of have to understand the office dynamic. I'm old enough to have fathered about 3/4 of the staff (even my immediate supervisor was born when I was 16 - and she's considered "old" in the office). And - although I'm actually not 100% certain any more - I believe I'm the only gay person in a staff of 30. (There are a couple of question marks on staff, one of whom is a guy that I just totally cannot get a read off of, and one of whom is a woman who... well... gets interesting when she's had too much to drink.) Put the age and the orientation together, and I'm the first to admit that this is not a group I feel peer-to-peer with.

So, instead, I just sit in my office and do my work. I let someone else bring in baked goods. I let someone else get excited about karaoke. And, yes, I let someone else do the parts of the job that I'm probably the only one in the office actually trained for.

I wish I had a good way to wrap this up. Some nugget of wisdom or witty commentary. But I don't at the moment. So, instead, I keep my snarky asides to my social media and try to let out my bursts of creativity when I'm on my own time.

I think I liked talking about what I do do at work, better.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What *Do* I Do All Day?

Every so often, at work, I receive emails from students looking for tips on becoming - or being - a book editor.

They all ask different questions, based on their needs, and so I tend to use my lunchbreak to answer them as well as I can.

This week, the questions came from a 7th grader, and I thought I'd share my (slightly expurgated) answers, here, since... well... sometimes it's interesting to see what the answers are. (Remember: It was written with a 7th grader in mind, so please forgive the tone...)

(While you're reading, why not consider what your own answers to the questions would be?)
  • Full name 
 Robert Schmidt, Coordinating Editor
  • What do you do day to day?
Because of the different parts of the company, my day can be pretty varied. Most days, I start out by proofreading book covers which our designers have created to make sure that they don't have any typos on them. Then I go through my email to see whether or not any of our editors need to be paid for jobs they've completed, and whether I've gotten any new assignments. I send out new assignments if they have come up, and I reply to any correspondence (like yours). Usually, after an hour or so, I can start on my actual editing, and I do that for most of the rest of my day - which means that I sit at my desk and read and comment on manuscripts for hours every day.
Of course, since I work in an office with Graphic Designers, Book Publicists, Printing Coordinators, and e-Publishing Managers, I also spend some of my day wandering around the office talking to people to see what they're up to. And eating lunch, of course.
  • What if your favorite part of your job?
I really like being able to see a manuscript go all the way through the process. When people sign up for editing, some of them only want to have their work edited, but some are working with our other divisions and are working toward having "real" books at the end of the process. It's pretty cool to see a Word.doc go through the editing, design, formatting, and printing steps, and show up a few months later as an actual book.
  • What are some of the difficulties you are faced with in this job?
I have to admit that there aren't many real difficulties to being an editor in my job. A few things that can make it a little unpleasant, though, are things like Internet problems (since it's hard to send files back and forth - or do online research - with no Internet), or authors who ask you to edit their work, but don't want to actually listen to any of your suggestions. But neither of those things is really earth-shaking, as far as difficulties can go.

If you are a freelance book editor - meaning that you don't work for a specific company, but you have to go out and find work on your own - it can be very difficult to get enough work to pay all of your bills. Luckily, I work for one company and don't have to go out and search for work.

  • Since when have you known you wanted to be a book editor? Why?
I have always like working with words. I wrote stories when I was in grade school, and when I was in college I thought I might want to be a teacher. I found out pretty quickly that I'm not patient enough to be a teacher, but I still like helping people with their writing. That's when I started to realize that editing might be a good fit for me. 
  • What preparations did you have to make to reach your current editor status?
Hmm... I have a Bachelor's degree in English, and a Master's degree in Composition and Rhetoric (which is a fancy way to say that it's another English degree that focuses on writing). Mainly, though, I had to get a lot of practice. Just like with any job, until you have done it a lot, most people won't really want to hire you. So I did a lot of editing and proofreading for friends, and did some of that in other jobs I had. Eventually, when a position came open in my company, I applied for it, and since I had a lot of experience, I got the job. 
  • How long have you been in this field?
Well, I've been helping out friends with editing for a long time - probably at least 20 years or so. But I started at my company about 4 years ago, and have been in my current position for about 2 years.
  • What do you do to make it easier to work, or "get in  the zone"?
I do a lot of the same things I did when I was your age (which was a long time ago, I admit). I listen to music. I try to close down all of my other computer windows (so that I'm not distracted by Facebook or email). And I have a bad habit of putting my feet up against the wall and leaning back in my chair so that I'm facing away from the door. (This isn't usually too bad, but sometimes my feet slip on the wall and I end up kind of falling over - which disrupts my officemate...)
  • What is an example of a particularly difficult client(s) you've had to work with?
I worked with one author who rejected almost all of my edits in his manuscript. Then, when his book came out, he contacted my boss and complained that it was full of errors. I had to point out that the errors were things I had tried to change, but that he had kept the way they were. That wasn't fun.
A lot of the time, the authors are just very nervous - many of them haven't ever worked with an editor, so they aren't used to being critiqued. And that can be hard for anyone, so I try not to take it personally if they get upset.
  • Any particularly interesting stories you've gotten to edit?
I've gotten to read some really great stuff! (Okay - just between you and me - I'll admit that I've also read some really pretty bad stuff... ;-)
I worked on a book called El Caracol, which was all about a young boy growing up in the Labor Camps in California in the early/mid-1900s.
I worked on a novel about what it was like growing up in Germany before World War II, called All the Dogs of Europe Barked.
And I really liked a set of short science fiction pieces that a blogger sent through to me to edit - but I don't know what he ever ended up doing with them.

A lot of the books I've worked on are very personal for their authors, so although they may not be great books, the emotion in them is always very clear. And those are the ones that I like the best. 
  • Advice to someone who is interested in this career? 
Read - a lot. Read pretty much everything you can get your hands on. The best editors are people who have read all kinds of books and can help the authors find their voices. And the only way to do that is to be exposed to a lot of different writing styles. A lot of people will tell you that you have to read "great authors" to learn about writing, and I think that's true - to a point.

I think that it's really good to read some classics so that you know what writing has stood the test of time. I love reading books that have been around for years, because the style of the writing - and the words they used - makes them really interesting. But I think it's also important to read newer things so that you know what's current.
I also think it's important to read a lot of different kinds of writing - everything from poetry to science fiction, and from Shakespeare to J.K.Rowling. And don't forget that there's a lot of non-fiction out there, too, which is a huge portion of the work that gets edited every day. (Although, I admit that I prefer working on fiction.)
Once you've read a lot, then  you want to start working on editing and proofreading for your friends. The more you do it, the better you become. You can learn how to give advice without sounding too much like a hall monitor, and you can figure out ways to help people without being pushy.
After a while, you'll find that it will get easier - and that the people you work with are really happy to have you work with them. That's when you know that it's time to start getting paid!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Why Not Hamsters?

From time to time, words kind of strike me as odd.

Maybe it's because I work with them for eight hours a day, and so they start running together. (Not, unfortunately, a good thing when you're trying to proofread something.)

Maybe they're always odd, but it's only some days when they allow themselves to be seen as such.

Today, as we near the holidays and the food festivals that they are, I am left wondering why it is that "guinea pig" is the animal left being used - nominally, at least - as a... well... lab rat.

Why not rats? Why not voles? Why not hamsters?

Like I said: odd.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

We've Got Mail! (And It's Not Digital!)

Christopher and I were away from home last week and we had our mail held.

Remember how I had mentioned last week that we were getting a ton of mail before the election? Well, with that over, all I really expected to see when our mail started back up was two Netflix envelopes and - hopefully - a freelance paycheck.

We were around the house most of the day, and the mail never came. Or at least we assumed that the mail didn't come because, even though we weren't expecting much, we figured there would be those two DVDs from Netflix.

Just before Christopher headed for bed, he checked the mail one final time. The packet he brought in was held together by three rubber bands. Honestly, I'm not sure how it fit into our mailbox.

Apparently the 2nd week in November, this year, was Catalog Week. There were enough catalogs that the stack, all together, was probably about 3 inches thick.

Yes, there were also those two DVDs, a paycheck, some coupons, and even - gasp - one postcard and a real letter, but we were absolutely deluged with catalogs.

Part of me wants to be frustrated by that. But the other (much more giddy) part of me wants to stay up until the wee hours imagining all the things I could buy and have shipped to my door. Or - heck - it's almost Christmas, so I'll even happily imagine shipping some of them to other people's doors.

Either way, although I really want to be upset by the shift from election mailings to crass consumerism, all I can really do is enjoy the early stages of the pre-Holidays.

After all, the tree won't go up until after Thanksgiving, so the five-year-old kid inside me has to take what he can get in the meantime.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bad Quote Quotient - Senseless Brutality

Some of the worst bad quotes at my job don't come from manuscripts. Some of them come from emails and messages we receive.

In general, I don't pay any attention to bad spelling/grammar/whatever in anything sent to me by friends. Use the wrong form of "their/they're/there" in a personal email to me? I'll read past it and continue on.

Text me something that has words like "teh" or phrases like "Do you wand to got?" and I'll ignore them and try to read between the lines.

But send me a business message with a massive typo in it and, yes, I'm going to notice. After all, to me, there's a hierarchy to communications, and I've always believed that you have to pay more attention to business communications than you do to casual messages.

Well, I'm not sure whether the author in question would agree, since this was the (complete) message he sent earlier this week in response to an explanation about one of our procedures:

"This makes complete sentence."

And, you know, that does make a complete sentence. I'm just not sure it makes... well... sense.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Travel Tuesday - More Alaska Pictures

Okay. It's been forever since we got back from Alaska, but I still haven't gotten many pictures up. Since part of that is because I've got a TON of pictures and couldn't ever put all of them up, I've decided to just give you a few of them that I like.

(Oh, if you want to catch up on earlier posts from Alaska, you can find a food post, here; and some only-in-Alaska signage, here.)

The 4th Avenue Theater (closed, unfortunately) in Anchorage.
The Anchorage Art Museum was really cool - complete with a whole section coordinated through the Smithsonian. But we saw this "rehearsal" one evening on our walk past it. *So* cool. 
On our way to see a glacier on the Kenai Peninsula (below), we passed this. 
I wish the color showed up better on this. The "glacier blue" that I'd always heard about came to (very cold) life in front of us.
A chunk of glacial ice (not from the one, above, but from a land-locked glacier which was dropping bits of itself into a stream. At the urging of our tour guide, I tasted it. It was... cold... and - for lack of a better term - "pure" tasting. 
We found these in an outfitter outside of Denali National Park. We did *not* try them, even though they made me laugh.
We saw the full rainbow on our drive across the Kenai Peninsula. It was one of those kind of amazing drive days (Christopher drove for *hours* as we covered lots of miles), but the scenery was worth it. (This is also the trip which landed us at the amazing cafe in Old Town Seward.)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Baking Season

It seems that every time I've gone to the grocery store over the past week or two, I've been stocking up on baking supplies.

I had a coupon for sugar - and it was on sale - so I bought both white and brown sugars. (No sugar substitutes for me, thanks.)

I bought flour a couple of weeks ago, and when I looked in the pantry a couple of days ago - having used almost none in the meantime - one of my first thoughts was "I should buy more flour."

I used the end of a gift card to buy vanilla.

I even found a coupon for a no-knead bread mix and decided to pick it up, just so that I could have the smell of baking bread in the house.

Yep. It's definitely the start of the baking season. And it makes me very happy.

Now I just have to figure out what to make.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday Food - Frugal

This actually isn't going to be a post about food. Sorry. Instead, it's going to be a post about fiscal responsibility, of sorts.

I work in an office that has about 25 people (I think we're still under 30 people), and I am amazed on a daily basis how many of them go out to eat for lunch. Sure, they go out to "quick service" places, or the new Whole Foods market down the street, but they're still buying lunch out almost every day.

And, as I watch them come and go, I've been trying to figure out if I've ever done that.

I remember a time when I was working in retail when I would go to a bagel place once each week and get a mixed bag of "day-old" bagels, and then use those to make sandwiches for the week. Even surrounded by mall food, I only bought lunch about 15% of the time.

When I worked in box offices, I probably ate out - or ordered in - a little more, but definitely not every day. And when I was working my really weird hours in a phone queue (5pm to 2am), a lot of places weren't even open when I wanted dinner, so it was either bring it in or go to the 24-hour grocery store down the road.

All of which goes back to say that I really just don't get how the people I work with can afford to eat out so much.

Of course, it might bother me in part because we're near a pizza place, so when people go out, I often have to sit in my office and smell pizza. Kind of a lunch-Grinch jealously thing.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Oddly Quiet

On Sunday, we got four calls from the same telephone research company asking questions about Tuesday's election.

On Monday, we got something like 5 flyers in the mail, and 2 or 3 hang-up phonecalls.

Yesterday, we had a couple more hang-ups which simply registered on our phone as "missed calls."

Today, we got nothing.

After a couple of weeks during which we got enough flyers to stuff a mattress, today we got two DVDs from Netflix, and a catalog. No flyers. No missed phonecalls.

Just a lot of nothing. A strange, wonderful silence.

The day after Election Day. Who knew it would be a combination of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all in one?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Election Eve

No, it's not a Presidential election year. In Minnesota it's not even a gubernatorial election year. But tomorrow is, in fact, an election day.

We've got City Council people up for election in our area. And - you may have heard of this - we've got 35 people running for mayor of Minneapolis.

Yes. Thirty-five.

There are some serious candidates that you can actually take seriously. There are some not-very-serious candidates who would like to be taken seriously. And there are some people that you can't believe are serious.

There's a pirate - but he's not part of the Pirate party.

There's the group who profess that Laura Ingalls (yes, that Laura Ingalls) is God.

There's the guy who I'm pretty sure swore in the online ad where he came walking out of one of the lakes in a bathing suit.

And tonight I have to figure out which people to vote for. You can probably assume that I'm not going to vote for any of those last three I listed. But I really have to figure out which of the seriously serious people to vote for.

I figure that if I start studying the ballot now, I'll be good to go by tomorrow morning.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie

I totally understand the idea of leaving well enough alone much of the time. Unfortunately, in our house, the whole "let sleeping dogs lie" thing tends to be more literal.

You see, the pup has a tendency to want to sleep just in the wrong places. And she's remarkably difficult to move for a dog weighing only about twenty pounds.

In bed - especially this time of year - she'll creep up to between our shoulders and then decide to stay there. Sometimes it's fine. Sometimes - like the other morning - it's not so fine. She moved into place when I rolled over to hit the snooze on my alarm and left me lying on about 8" of the edge of the bed.

Tonight, as I sat down to write this post, she hopped up on my lap and stretched out across my legs. Perfectly placed so that I couldn't even set my laptop down. Luckily, she shifted when I started trying to type.

So I guess, in this case, it might just be best to let her lie after all.