Happy birthday to my wife

Today is my wife Karen’s birthday.

I figured it would be a good day to talk a little about the woman who’s put up with me for half of her life.

Anyone that is a regular reader to this blog already knows how often I tell stories about the Wife here.  She puts up with a lot from me.

What you don’t know about her is, quite often, if I’m stuck for a topic, she’s been the one to suggest one of those embarrassing stories.

She can laugh at herself. And she can put up with all my sarcasm.  That’s impressive in it’s own right.

In fact, Karen was the first woman I dated that could not only take my sarcasm, but toss even better zingers back at me.  That’s impressive.

And even more impressive was how she trained me to cook for her.  Her secret (for all you brides to be out there) is to make three meals, each one progressively more deadly than the previous one.  After the third and fearing for his life, the man will inevitably take over.

And when I complain now about having to cook all the time, she’ll get me by saying, “Okay, I’ll help you.  But I just need to finish this off, so, you wanna start it and I’ll be along in a minute?”

An hour later, I’ll call everyone down to dinner.  She at least has the good grace to look sheepish as she grins on her way by.

Luckily, even though she can’t cook, she’s fun to be around.  Most of the time.  There are times, however, when the woman can drive you absolutely batshit bonkers.  For example, I’ve learned never to attempt a conversation with her while there’s an open email application within sight.  Why?  Because conversations will tend to run something like:

Me: “I’m heading out to the store, do you need anything?”

The Wife: “Oh!  Yes, can you pick me up some…”

Me: “…”

The Wife: “…” (as she reads an email)

Me: “…” (patiently waiting)

The Wife: “…”

Me: “Can I pick you up some…what?”

The Wife: (reluctantly tearing her gaze from the email to shoot me a withering stink eye)  “…What?”

And so on.

I wish I could say this is the only time this happens.  But I can’t.  Sometimes Karen losing her train of thought can actually be classed as a full-on four-alarm derailment.  She’ll be talking and then something shiny will catch her attention and then it’s like talking to something who’s battery is dying.  For example:

Me: “Hey, wanna catch a movie tonight?”

The Wife: “Sure.”

Me: “Anything in particular you wanna see?”

The Wife: “Oh!  Yeah!  Have you seen that…”

Me: “…”

The Wife: “…that, uh…”

Me: “Movie?  Trailer?  Movie trailer?”

The Wife: “Yeah!  The one with…”

Me: “…”

The Wife: “With…uh…”

Me: “…”

The Wife: “Oh, you know…”

Me: “No, I really don’t.  Male or female?”

The Wife: “They were in…”

Me: “In…what?  Girl or guy, honey, girl or guy?”

The Wife: “…In that movie.  You know, the one with the…yeah.”

Me: “…”

And so on.

Good times. Not that I’m all that easy to live with either.

But seriously, Karen and I have been through a lot together, and the rollercoaster started very early, and it hasn’t ever really slowed down since.

We were tested early when we tried to save my nephew after his parents, the police, the Children’s Aid Society and the court system totally and completely failed him.  We did too.  Since then, we’ve seen our share of ups and downs.  Mostly ups, thankfully.  Moving in together.  Getting pets.  Supporting each other through shitty jobs.  Finding out we were going to be parents.  Being broke.  New cars.  New homes. New jobs that weren’t shitty.  Losing loved ones.  Gaining nieces.  Getting older.

And, in the last year, really taking the time to learn more about each other, learning to understand each other better, to talk to each other better.

And here’s where I’m finding I’m struggling.  I never struggle to write a blog.  When I decide to write one, I sit down and write it.

But this one’s different.  This one’s hard.  Why?  Because I don’t have the right words to describe this woman to you so you understand her.  How do I describe all the crazy, wonderful elements that make up this person?  How do I portray all the opposites that she embodies?  How she’s calm and centred, but also fiery and emotional?  How she’s open and sharing, but also intensely private?  How she’s crazy funny, but also very serious.  How she’s self-assured, but also insecure.

I don’t think I could ever do her justice.

I guess that’s the secret to Karen.  She can’t be pigeon-holed.  She can’t be labelled.  She’s unique and very much an individual.

Most of all, she’s the mother to my kids, and my wife of almost 21 years.

And today is her birthday.

I love you, Karen.  Happy birthday.

The perfect storm

259 days ago, I wrote a rather charmingly naive blog about becoming hooked on my blog stats.  You can link over and read it, or I can summarize it below.

I was excited because I’d just passed 1500 hits in a titch over a month.

I was excited because twice–TWICE! –I’d achieved over 100 hits in a single day.

So let’s fast forward to now, where I’ll endeavour to write another blog that 259 days from now on Oct 27th I’ll likely consider charmingly naive as well.

So let’s go back to the last day of 2011 for just a second.  Back in June, I’d been excited over those 1500 total hits to this blog.  On the last day of the year, watching with morbid fascination, I was terribly excited to watch that count tick over from 9999 to 10000 hits.

Didn’t think it would get much cooler than that.

But January turned out to be a good month for me getting new readers on and I started averaging a fairly consistent 100 hits per day.  My record high day was an absolutely ridiculous, never to be duplicated 366 hits.  In a single day!  Wowzers, right?

And then a very strange combination of events happened almost two weeks ago.  Whitney Houston died.  And I blogged about it.

I won’t go into it much here, you can read all about it here, but let’s just say I wasn’t happy that another celebrity checked out with a chemistry kit in their veins and confused loved ones wondering why.

The next morning, I checked my blog for comments and hits and I was surprised to find, instead of the usual 20-30ish hits this early, I was already well over a hundred.  By the time I started work, it had creeped up a bit more.

I remember having a conversation with Pat (who’s blog deserves far more hits than mine does) around mid-morning and I told her then that I thought this blog had the potential to take me past that 366 high note.  “Might even crack 400 hits,” I said.

By noon, it was coming up to 500.  It was then that Pat gave me some wise advice about my blog on the evils of addiction.  She said, “stop checking it.  You’re addicted.” She told me not to check until a specific time.  I think it was 2 p.m.

To be honest, she scared the hell out of me.  And I stopped looking.

Somewhere toward the end of the work day, I was at around 1100 hits for the day.  I had one last conversation with Pat.  I said I could see it topping out at 1300.  Pat said she guessed more like 1500-1800.  We bet a coffee and a donut on it, I was so sure I was right.  And then I stopped looking at it.

The next morning, I came down and checked.  It’s not often I use this term, but it’s truly the only one that accurately describes my reaction.  I was well and truly gobsmacked.  The final tally for the day turned out to be well beyond either Pat’s guess or my own.  I hit 2939 hits.

Now, I know there’s quite a few of you out there that probably yawn at numbers like that and see them with some frequency, but remember, this was just shy of 3000 hits on a blog that sees that in an average month.  That next day?  2034 hits.  5000 hits in two days.

From a blog I figured a maximum of 100 people would read, some would commend me for having the balls to write it, others to slam me for.  Maybe, I don’t know, five or six commenters.

Let’s just cut to the chase now, shall we?  The post has now been up a total of 11 days and has garnered 8247 hits.  In fact, the only other thing that comes close to it is the total lifetime hits of my home page, which has exactly 49 more hits.  And I’ve had a home page a helluva lot longer than the Whitney post.  My total lifetime hits is well on its way to 25K.  And still, I’m left shaking my head.

One last thing.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, another post of mine from Jan 13 called Life is beautiful has found new legs and is getting a lot of views, just in the last couple of days.

Obviously, yes, I’m sure a lot of the 8200 hits to the Houston blog are not full readers, but for a blog that normally gets four to six comments, this one currently has 60.  My favourite is the one where I’m called a “fucking idoit”.  Actually, that’s a lie.  My favourites are from an ex-addict named Colin and a few others who have had to deal with addicts in their lives.  The “idoit” one is just plain good times.

So, now, as my hit numbers finally start to fall back to their normal pathetic counts, I’m left to wonder, what caused this perfect storm of viewers flocking to my little profanity-riddled, scatologically-obsessed blog?  Was it the tagging of “Whitney Houston”?  Or the one-two combo punches of “Whitney Houston” coupled with “drugs” or “addict”?

Is that why the Life is beautiful blog is picking up?  Is it the addiction-related tags again?  Is it the hopeful title?  I don’t think so, because it’s found more of an audience now than it did a month ago when it was published.

I don’t get it.  I’ve written some stuff on this blog that commenters have said is the funniest thing they’ve read.  Apparently I’ve been the cause of food being sprayed across the monitors of some computers.

On the other hand, I’ve also tried to be painfully honest and opened up about some deeply personal stuff that I’ve also been commended on.

And none of it has resonated anywhere near as much as me bitching about Whitney.  None of it has found the same audience.

I find that weird, to be honest.  Regardless, I’m just going to keep writing about the things I find funny, stupid and aggravating in this wacky world of ours.  It’s the only thing I can do.  You try and chase those hits, you’ll drive yourself crazy.

I joked to Pat that I should give up writing blogs about farts and shit and start name-dropping celebrities instead.  “Don’t do it,” she said.  And then she said something sobering.  “I’ve got one word for you: Snooki.”

And I decided, yeah, I’m happier writing about shit than the shit that these idoits (yes, misspelling on purpose) do.  Though I reserve the right to poke them in print whenever the hell I feel like it.

The motionless glide

Barbara Cartland’s child
long ago perfected the motionless glide.

The Boomtown Rats – Diamond Smiles

The Wife.

Ah, the Wife.  She’s such an interesting character at times.  Especially, it seems, when we head on down to the United States of America.  Don’t believe me?  Read about one of our interesting adventures here.

Let me tell you about another time.  The time when we moved without moving.  It was kind of a Twilight Zone moment.

So, we’re on our way back from Florida and the car is a filthy mess from all the driving and various weather zones we’ve traveled through.  At one point, might have been in Georgia, we stopped for gas and we picked up some snacks and stuff.  On the way back to the car, we saw they had one of those touchless car washes.

Not sure if you know the type I mean, but basically, it’s a big glassed-in box that you drive into, stop at a certain point, throw it into Park, and watch in fascination as this big arm works its way around the vehicle, alternately gushing water or cleansing foam or whatever the hell they squirt at cars to make them look pretty.

I paid for the basic wash, we all hopped in the car and made sure all the windows were up and tightly closed and the doors were fully shut.  Then we headed around and into the glassed-in box.

Really, the entire operation’s pretty idiot-proof.  You drive in, there’s a sign in front of you that tells you when to stop and what to do next, which is put it in Park.

Okay, I need to pause here to explain something about myself.  For those of you that don’t already know this, I’m a man that lives by a different code.  I dance to a different drummer.  I hear a different calling.

What I’m trying to say is, I’m a man of action.  I’m a thrill seeker of the highest order.  Nothing will get between me and pulse-pounding, soul-shaking, knuckle-whitening excitement.  And this is important to know when I explain what I did next.  It’s so you understand my heart-thundering frame of mind.

When we pulled into the building, the sign said Stop, so I stopped.  But then, the sign said to put the vehicle in Park and, dammit, being the excitement junkie I am, I chose, instead, to simply leave the car in Drive and put my foot on the brake.

I know!  I know what you’re thinking, so I’ll just state it for the record:  Yes, I know how to push the envelope!

Anyway, I felt it necessary to set the stage there.  So I pull in, brake, and wait.  The Wife says, “Aren’t you going to put it in Park?”

“Why?” I say, with just the right hint of cavalier attitude.

“Because it says so!” says the Wife, indicating the instructional light.  Huh! I think, someone’s a stickler for the rulebook, isn’t she?

I simply wave her concerns away like so much cigarette smoke and watch as the robotic arm glides into position at the side of the vehicle and starts spraying water at the windows, making a playful pattering noise as it flushes the grime of two countries away.

All goes well until the arm, which started on the passenger side then passed around the front of the car and now worked its way back along my side, the driver’s side.  That’s when the Wife spoke up, quite panicked.

“We’re moving!” she said.

“No we’re not,” I replied in my most soothing, dulcet tones.

“Yes we are!” she shot back.  “We’re moving!”  She turned to the Boy and the Girl in the back seats.  “We’re moving!  Aren’t we moving?”

“No,” they both replied calmly.

Her eyes wide as dinner plates, she turned back and looked out the front window.  Her arm shot up, index finger extended.  “Look!” she said.  “Look at the door!  We’re moving, I tell you!”

“Honey,” I said.  “Look out the side.  Look at the wall.”

“I’m looking!  We’re moving!”

“No, you just saw the arm moving back along the car and it made it look like we were moving forward.”

“We’re moving!”  Her eyes were the size of a Texan’s belt buckle now.  “We’re going to hit the door!”

The kids and I were doing everything we could to not laugh at her, and failing miserably.  It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life.  I could feel my foot on the brake.  I could look out the side of the car and see the wall five feet away, not moving.  I could look out the front window at the exit door and see it not approaching.  I could look back at my kids doing the same thing and laughing.

Then I could look over that the Wife.  Freaking.

“Okay,” I said, and rather reasonably if I do say so myself.  “The exit door is only about ten feet away.  If we’d been moving all this time, don’t you think we would have hit it by now?”

Of course, as I’m going through this particular piece of irrefutable logic, the arm has worked it’s way around to my side again, spraying the soap.  Again, it’s moving back along the car.  Which, again, makes it look, if your eyes follow the arm, like we’re moving forward.

“PUT IT IN PARK!” the Wife wailed.  “WE’RE GOING TO HIT THE FRONT DOOR!” 

Logic took a holiday that day, apparently.

Hilarity, on the other hand, moved in with us.  I was crying I was laughing so hard.

Long story short, this went on until the car wash finished and the front door slid open.  It was still ten feet away when it did so.

I released my foot from the brake and we cruised out of the car wash.  I wiped tears from my eyes all the way back to the highway.

But it doesn’t quite end there.  Turns out there was a bonus story.

On the way to the highway, mostly to drown out the sounds of her family laughing their asses off at her, the Wife tore into some of the packages of the stuff we’d bought in the store.

Now, I don’t know if it was the frame of mind, or sheer coincidence, but we’d just hit the highway, I just got it up to cruising speed when the most soul-searing shriek of abject terror erupted three feet to my right.

Imagine this.  You’re speeding down a highway at 70 mph, wiping the odd tear of laughter from your eye, watching for police, keeping an eye on the traffic, the normal sounds of family around you.  Then, out of nowhere…

“WHATDUH WHATDUH WHATDUH!”

At which point the car does a fairly serious wobble in the lane as I furiously whip my head 360 degrees, Linda Blair-style, looking for the source of impending doom.

Not seeing anything, and all of this occurring in the span of 1.3 seconds, I then turn to the source of the shrieking horror, the Wife who, by this time, is doing everything she can to pull herself up to a standing position on the seat, all while still being buckled in.

She sees me glance over and jabs a horrified finger at the shiny black thing clinging to her bare leg while her face contorts in unbridled terror, chin crumpled up and pushing the lower lip out so it dangles like a pork chop from the front of her face while her eyes roll and spin like lotto balls.

I reach over and pluck the horrible thing from her leg.

Holding up so I can look at it and still see the road, I realize it’s a small long piece of black shiny plastic.  It says, “Made in Mexico” on one side.

“What,” I say, casting an accusing eye at her as she clambers back to a seated position. “The. Fuck?”

“I thought it was a bug,” she said sheepishly.  “I was saying ‘what the, what the, what the?'”

And that was the day we perfected the motionless glide and faced down the attack of the deadly WhatduhWhatduhWhatduh bug.

You Americans.  You got some crazy shit happening down there.

Interview with a dickwad

Wow…there’s lots of stuff pissing me off lately. But none more than this:

A few days ago, my daughter got called to a job interview. Fantastic. She was very excited and spent a lot of time prepping both on her own, and with me.

A little about me. I held a position for quite a while where I would go out to universities and interview candidates for co-op roles, summer roles and permanent positions. I also helped students get ready for interviews through mock interview sessions. As well, I also did a lot of interviewing for new hires into a call centre, etc., etc., etc.

If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve done more than 3000 interviews in my time. I’ve coached many others on how to do interviews, from both sides of the table. So, I know the interview process fairly well. On top of that, the Wife has done a ton of interviewing as well. Between us, we have decades of experience.

I’ve found the biggest mistake people make is trying to anticipate the questions that could be asked. There’s millions, so don’t even try. You’ll always get zinged. You need a better process.

So, I took the Girl through the process I suggest for anyone preparing for a behavioural interview. It’s the one I’ve used for several years and it’s rarely let me down.

Step One: The Skills

The first step is to write down what you think (or, preferably what you can pull from the job description) are the top skills you’ll need in the role you’re applying for. So, as an example, communication skills, conflict negotiation, and time management. Obviously there are tons, but we’ll use these to illustrate.

Step Two: The Examples

When you’ve got a list of seven to ten, then you want to find examples for them. So, at first, just think about a time when you performed that skill amazingly well. Jot it down so you remember it. Then think of a time when you completely boned it up badly. Did you learn anything from that? Good, jot it down too. And keep doing this for each skill.  By the end, you should have 14 to 20 examples for each of those seven to ten skills.  One good and one bad.

Here’s a great side benefit to this.  Let’s say you have 14 examples.  In reality, most behavioural-based interviews probe for maybe five to seven (and that’s a long interview) skills.  Those 14 examples you have?  Those weren’t a single skill done in a vacuum.  If you had a conflict with a coworker, for example, you likely used communication skills, negotiation skills, decision making skills, possibly leadership skills…

My point is, you have 14 very flexible answers that can be used for probably 40 or 50 questions now.

Step Three: The Format

So, now you want to work them up into good, solid answers.  You’ve likely heard of the S.T.A.R. format, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.  Personally, I use B.A.R. which is Background, Action, Result.  Toe-may-toes, toe-mah-toes…same difference.

Either way, you want to come up with a very short (note the emphasis) background to the example.  Next, you want a nicely detailed stack of the actions you did, and cap it off with a short result.  Notice where you’re spending most of your time…in the actions you took.  Most people make the mistake of thinking the result is the thing.  It’s not.  You’re actions are what sell you and tell the interviewer you do possess the skill they require.

Think about it.  Let’s say your example is about having to fundraise $10 000, and it was a struggle to meet that goal, but you did it.  Is the fact that you raised it as important to a prospective employer as the actions and strategies that you performed to raise it?  Right.  It’s the actions.

Step Four: Observable Behaviours

Ever had problems in an interview walking that line between sounding conceited or sounding so humble that it seems others did the tasks for you?

When you’re putting those examples together, take all emotion out of the answers (and, as a side note, any employer that asks you how you felt about something isn’t playing fair).  If you stick to observable behaviours, that is, if someone was following you around during the time of that example, what would they have seen?  Granted, you need a little leeway on that one as they wouldn’t be able to hear your thoughts through a decision making process, but that’s it.  Talk about the observable behaviours.

Keep the emotion out of it.  Keep your opinions out of it.  They have no place in an interview.

The side benefit to this?  You won’t come off sounding too cocky or too humble, because you’re relating what anyone would have seen.  Did you get a commendation?  Great, talk about it…it’s observable.

Step Five: Research

Let me ask a question here…how much time did you take researching and preparing for your last vacation?  Probably a fair amount of time, between checking out sites, reading reviews, talking to friends, etc.

How much time did you take researching the company for your last interview?

Yeah, thought so.  Here’s the deal: It’s very easy for employers to gauge how motivated you are to work for their company based on a single, simple question.  “What do you know about my company?”

I think the most pathetic answer (besides, “I don’t know anything.”) is the guy that told me he knew we had two main competitors, both of which he’d worked for, so we were “next on the list.”

The internet is a wonderful thing.  Use it to research the company.  Hell, at the very least, set up a Google Alert to deliver the information straight to your inbox.  Research at its laziest.

Step Six: Tell Me You Love Me

This is the second hardest thing to put together.  The hardest is still to come.

After you’ve done your deep dive into your skills, then a deep dive into the company, you need to be able to articulate very clearly why you want to work for the company.  The interviewer knows you’re interested, because you applied.  But now you need to be able to explain the why.

Here’s the really bad analogy I always use:

The Wife: “Do you love me?”

Me: “Yes.” (easy answer, right?  Consider this the application you sent in)

The Wife: “Why do you love me?”

And here’s the uh-oh spot for the interviewee that hasn’t thought this through.  Because many interviewers will say something like, “Tell me why my company is the right fit for you,” or, even simpler, “Why do you want to work for my company?”  See why Step Five is so important now?

Here’s why…because if I came back to the Wife and said, “I love you because you’re female, you have brown hair and nice teeth,” she is so not going to feel very secure.

And yet, the answer I mostly get is something like, “You’re a large, successful company with lots of room for growth.”  Big deal.  So is Google.  So is Facebook.  So are a lot of other companies.

Get this one right, people, it’s a dealbreaker for me.

Step Seven: Unique

This one always seems to be the toughest one to answer, and it can also be tossed out in an interview so subtly that you don’t even realize it.  Think about this…what makes you unique?  In other words, what can you say about you that very few other people can say?

It tends to be a stumper, and usually, after a few minutes of thinking, I’ll get something like, “Well, I’m a quick learner.  I know others can say that, but I really am.”

Yawn.

Here’s what you should be thinking about: think about all the experiences you’ve had at previous jobs, or through extracurriculars, or hobbies, or traveling, or volunteering, or on boards…anything.

There’s never going to be just one thing that makes you unique.  Right now, Paul McCartney can’t say, “I was a Beatle,” and be unique.  There was three other guys, and one of them is still around.

But you can build a stack of experiences up that makes you unique.  Of course you can.  Everyone can.

The interview

So this was everything I took the Girl through–no small task on her part, let me tell you–and she then went off and worked it all up into some fantastic answers.

Then she went to the interview.  Anne Rice could have written the book on it: The Interview With a Dickwad.

The guy essentially ignored her resume (though he had a copy to review when calling her, and requested another be brought to the interview), except where he wanted to refute things.

An example?  “This place is fast-paced.  I don’t think your previous job was fast-paced.”  If he would have asked a question about it, instead of passing judgement, he would have found out it was, in fact, quite fast-paced.  So he did this a few times.

He also told her he figured she’d get “tired” of driving from her home to work and back.  Yeah, ten minutes is a hell of a commute, let me tell you.

He actually berated her for her choice of schools for post-secondary education.

And then he did the unforgivable (in my book).  He took a personal call on his cell phone, cutting her off in the middle of one of her answers.

Okay, when I’m interviewing someone, no matter how well or how poorly they are doing, they are the only person that matters for the duration of the interview.  I expect that courtesy from them, I extend the same courtesy to them.

So, basically, this asshole made the Girl do this “long” commute that he thought she would soon tire of, to essentially bring her in, pass incorrect judgement on her resume, not discuss the role whatsoever, not probe or check on any of her skills, pass judgement on her education decisions, then show her that any old phone call was more important that a possible new staff member.  Seriously, he really puts the “mental” in judgmental.

Honestly, I’d love for this guy to call her and offer her the job.

Because now I’ve coached my daughter on her response and now she can be quite emphatically clear when she tells him exactly what he can do with his job, his company and his offer.