Salute to Secretaries

© Dashk | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Dashk | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Offices aren’t what they used to be. When I was a kid, my dad–and everybody else’s dad that I knew–had a secretary. She was always very nice and had candy on her desk, plus she answered his phone, ran his errands, kept his calendar and knew where he was all the time, even when my mom had no idea.

When I got older and got cubicled for the first time, I discovered that these secretaries weren’t just the ones who knew where the bosses were all the time, they were the ones who knew how to make the coffee, operate the copy machine, send a fax or find an extra large paper clip. They also knew when the boss was in a good mood and was likely to say “yes” to a day off, and even more importantly, when the boss was in a bad mood and was likely to bite your head off if you asked him to hold the elevator. Secretaries had super powers like eyes in the backs of their heads, and ears that could hear through walls. They could make appointments appear or disappear with a flick of their pen, and make or break your career with the raise of an eyebrow.

My boss called his secretary his “work spouse,” which was a pretty apt description. He would have been literally lost without her–she printed up a color-coded itinerary (“don’t forget to go potty and eat lunch”) and driving directions for him every day. Now, a whole generation of these Wonder Women seems to be lost. I’m guessing they’ve discovered they have the power of invisibility.

According to the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), there are more than 4.1 million administrative assistants and secretaries in the United States, but I defy you to find one anywhere but on school campuses.

Call an office today and you’re lucky to get a real live person to answer the phone, let alone a real live person that resides in the same country, let alone the same building, as the person you’re trying to reach. And as to knowing the boss’s whereabouts: good luck. You can try her cell phone, pager, emailing or texting her, but if she doesn’t answer, there’s nothing you can do but sit there in limbo and wonder if she’s mad at you or just taking a day off.

We used to have Secretaries Day, where everyone in the office chipped in for flowers and took our Gal Friday out for their annual lunch. That’s all over with now. Secretaries, where they still exist, have been transformed from the Target to the Tiffany’s of office professionals.

In fact, it’s hard to find anyone who’s not in the White House Cabinet that calls themselves secretaries. The politically correct term is “Administrative Professionals,” with this entire week designated to wine and dine them and generally try to bribe them into making sure your career stays on track.

According the IAAP, there’s been a ginormous evolution in clerical duties in the past 20 years. Where secretaries once took phone messages (remember those little pink slips of paper?), now they “coordinate communications.”

Technology has taken over so many of the tasks that secretaries used to do; we’re now up to Office Assistant version 3.3. Secretaries used to take dictation and shorthand, then type memos and letters. Now they’ve mastered integrated computer software applications and use the work “task” as a verb.

Whereas before we always knew they could do the boss’s job blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs, now they actually do the boss’s job.

How do you show your appreciation for these unsung someones who run the show? As far as gifts go, forget the candy and the flowers. IAAP’s advice is a presentation from a motivational speaker or a membership in a professional organization, or–get this–a computer hardware/software upgrade. You call that a gift? I say nothing says “thank you” better than cold, hard cash–and pick up your own dry cleaning this week.

What’s your take on secretaries? Send me a memo, or better yet, have your people email my people at

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 27, 2007

My 100th Column

Leslie was very young when she wrote her first column! Image © Daviddomi | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Leslie was very young when she wrote her first column! Image © Daviddomi | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Writing 100 columns sounds like a big deal, doesn’t it? You’d think my editor would have thrown me a party or at least bought me a candy bar or something.

I started writing this column right after Koss started kindergarten. When he had his 100th day of kindergarten, they had a big celebration and all of the kids had to bring in 100 of something. Most of the children brought in buttons or pennies or crayons or fish crackers–you know, kid stuff.

As an overambitious first-time kindergarten mom who really needed to impress the teacher, I had the brilliant idea that we bring in a jar filled with 100 wishes. Of course I didn’t realize at the time that Koss only had the attention span to make about 47 wishes, and 23 of those were to have another one of the cookies I used to bribe him to focus on the remaining 69 wishes.

Despite all the duplicate wishes, I eagerly anticipated my gold star from his teacher, who would surely be blown away by our creativity.

Instead she tactfully suggested that perhaps I was giving my son too much sugar, and that his attention span might improve if he expanded his vegetable repertoire beyond potato chips and French fries.

I’ve learned a lot since then. Don’t ever let you kid tell his teacher what he really eats for dinner, for starters. And don’t ever start work on a class project until you’ve had at least one glass of wine.

I’ve learned a little bit about column-writing too. For example, even if I had learned 100 things since I started writing this column, I would never have enough space to include them here. Besides, 100 is an even number, and if there’s one rule I’m absolutely sure of, it’s that odd numbers are funnier than even numbers. My husband told me so. He also seems to think the number 69 is a lot funnier that 67 or 65 for some reason.

Writing this column has really done a lot to deepen my relationship with my husband. Now, instead of crying or throwing things when we fight, I get out my notepad and start taking revenge, I mean, ahem, taking notes.

And when my son does something horribly embarrassing or cute, I get out my camera and my notepad, and sometimes my tape recorder too.

My parents didn’t realize it, but when I started tape recording their childhood stories last weekend, it wasn’t just for the family archives. You never know where you might find new material.

Another great thing I’ve learned is that when you’re writing a column about your life, everything you do can be considered working.

“Why are you napping, Leslie? It’s the middle of the day.”

It’s work. I’m writing a column about napping.

“Why are you shopping/drinking/staring at your navel in the middle of the day?”

I’m working of course. There’s never a minute for myself, I just work, work, work, even when I’m sleeping I work. It’s 25/7 around here.

Apparently writing all of those columns hasn’t done anything to improve my math skills.

This is actually my 101st column. I realized that at some point last week, but I wanted to write about spring break, so I fudged it a little bit.

See, unlike my other job–as a reporter, where you have to pay special attention to things like truth and accuracy–you get to fudge a little when you’re a columnist. So when I tell you that this is my 101st column that doesn’t mean it’s my 101st column for THIS paper; I worked for another paper before this. And it wasn’t my fault they went out of business–although it might have helped if THAT editor had thrown me a party.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 13, 2007

My Gym Diary

© Tadija | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Tadija | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

The Weight Watchers theory is that writing down what you eat can make you lose weight, so I decided to keep a going-to-the-gym-diary to help me get in better shape. Here is what happened my first seven (non-consecutive) days at the gym.

Day 1- Feel That Credit Card Burn

Like most new endeavors, getting in shape takes motivation, determination, commitment, and cold, hard cash. I want to change my life, so buying the “lifetime gym membership”–where I pay $45 a month for the rest of my life, regardless of whether I ever break a sweat–seems like a really good idea.

I’ll also need new shoes, socks, a gym bag, sweats, a heart rate monitor, water bottle, an iPod and a lifetime subscription to “Ahnold Magazine” to get started on my journey.

No wonder all these people are wiping off their equipment with $20 bills. I guess that’s the price you pay to get in shape.

Day 2 – Just Do It

There’s nothing like new shoes to put a spring in my step. I drive the 12 blocks from my house to the gym, then circle around the lot 17 times before parking 3 blocks away. I’m exhausted before I set foot in the door.

I see some moms I know from school and end up chatting for an hour, while I occasionally look appreciatively at the equipment. If you’re at the gym, does that time count as a workout? I decide that it does and feel a little superior as I leave and notice the same three cars from an hour and a half ago still waiting for parking.

Day 3 – Checking Things Out

I go up to the weight room to look around. The grunting, the cyborg noises and the mirrors all bring back horror movie flashbacks and the armpit-vomit smell reminds me of my college dorm. Maybe I’ll try the cardio machines.

I’m still learning to use the equipment, so I peek over at Skinny Sally’s control panel to see what level and program she’s using on the elliptical machine. Of course I’m not very subtle and almost lose my balance trying to crane my neck for a better view. Must be the traction on my new shoes!

She gives me a dirty, sweaty, scary stare and quickly throws her towel over the lit up panel. Meow! It’s not like I was snooping in her purse, and why is it filled with ex-lax and breath mints?

Day 4 – Not Checking Things Out

I can’t stand it any longer. My bladder’s about to burst like a wicked rhinoceros. I force myself to go into the locker room to pee. As I wash my hands, I try to avoid making eye contact with Skinny Sally, who is completely nude except for her hair dryer, and now friendly as can be.

I sit down on a bench to compose myself.

When I look up, there’s a 95-year-old naked woman, Wrinkled Rhonda, two inches away from my face.

Day 5 – Real Time Versus Gym Time

I keep switching treadmills, but they are all defective. There’s no way I’ve only been working out for 17 minutes. It’s been at least an hour. I try to focus on what I’ll write my column about next week. If I’m thinking about work, can I bill for my time? I would call my accountant, but the gym has gotten very strict about enforcing their no cell phone policy on the gym floor and in the locker rooms–and I don’t have an accountant. Earlier today, Wrinkled Rhonda was naked in the hallway, taking a call from her great great great great grandson.

Day 6 – Power Reading

I have an epiphany. If you read while you’re on the treadmill, the time goes by faster. I should be reading War and Peace for my book club, but Bolkonski and Tolstoy are a lot less compelling than finding out what’s going on with Carmen Electra and Joan Jett.

Is reading the “National Enquirer” at the gym the same as reading it in the grocery store? I’m pretty sure that as long as you read it standing up, then it doesn’t have any calories.

Day 7 — Look Out

I’ve discovered something else about reading at the gym. I can’t read with my glasses and I can’t see other people without them. This is good and bad. My sister still hasn’t forgiven me for not recognizing her the other day. Give me a break. She was pretty sweaty, and very blurry.

On the other hand, if I don’t make eye contact with my high school homecoming date over there on the elliptical machine, maybe he won’t recognize me. Of course I’m twice the woman I was back then–hence the gym membership–so there’s no way he’d recognize me.

I remember from theatre arts that if you’re backstage and you can’t see the audience, they can’t see you either. I wonder if this is how it works at the gym? Maybe I should just take off my glasses when I look at the scale and forget about the gym completely.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound March 30, 2007

The Amazing Adventures of Danger Boy and Wimpy Mom

© Kapu | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Kapu | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

I stared up at Koss in amazement, as he confidently donned his bike helmet and harness to climb Gibraltar Rock. He looked so little, just a wisp of a boy, yet so excited and sure of himself. I couldn’t help but be impressed. Then I looked down at Rattlesnake Canyon 150 feet below, and almost lost my footing–and my lunch.

What kind of nut job mom lets their seven-year-old kid climb a mountain? Yet, there I was, terrified and shaking, watching from the side of the road. My Little Danger Boy was about to try rock climbing for the first time, with only a rope, a helmet and a harness to protect him from harm.

It was all his teacher’s fault. Teacher Danger Boy is an avid rock climber, and he promised the kids he would take them climbing as a belated Christmas gift. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving–grey hairs. Now it was time for him to “pay up on his promise,” and I was a wreck.

Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have been anywhere near the mountain. It’s been well documented that I’m not exactly the queen of all things daring and dangerous. My fears are completely rational. When I was 16 years old I took a 25-foot spill down a cliff onto the beach, and therefore all cliffs–even biggish sand dunes–are extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.

OK, I was wearing flip-flops and was too busy flirting with the boy I was with to pay attention to my footing, but that doesn’t change the fact that all cliffs–and even biggish sand dunes–are extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.

But see, Big Danger Boy (a.k.a. my husband Zak) was off on a dangerous “mancation” of his own that day, kayaking down boulder-filled rivers, drinking way too much and supervising a bunch of Neanderthals wobbling their way through a testosterone- and alcohol-fueled makeshift firewalk.

Since Zak was unavailable, I had to be there to “supervise” Koss’s rock climbing adventure. I warned his teacher that I would be watching from the side of the road. Unfortunately, Teacher Danger Boy didn’t pick up on the massive waves of “please don’t make me come and watch this” vibes I was sending his way, and said it would be just fine for me to watch from afar. I could have strangled him with my bare hands, but Koss really wanted to go, and his Wimpy Mom just didn’t have the heart to say no.

Clearly I was the one that needed a helmet to protect me from the blow to the head I must have suffered that got me to edge of this cliff (if 20 feet away is still “edge”).

I flashed back to Big Danger Boy’s skydiving adventure a few years back. I spent what should have been a lovely Saturday with my nerves shot, chained to the telephone. I could have killed him when he came back with a house full of pumped-up revelers, complaining of groin pain.

This time there was stomach pain (mine) as I grabbed my camera with one hand and a tree to steady myself with the other. I don’t even like writing about this, it just wigs me out again. If I could have sent him up there with full body armor and a hovering helicopter I would have, but all I could do at that point was cross my white knuckles, fingers, toes, and eyes and watch from afar as Koss climbed up that mountain like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Through the zoom lens of my camera I could see the huge smile on his face when he got to the top. He was so pumped up and proud of himself. For a split second I thought that maybe I wasn’t such a Wimpy Mom after all.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 8, 2007

My Destination Vacation

© Dushenina | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Dushenina | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

While most of Santa Barbara was schussing down the slopes at Mammoth or slathering on the sunscreen in Hawaii, I spent my spring break on a guilt trip, once again. I’m a creature of habit and guilt trips are definitely my vacation destination of choice.

Well, not exactly “choice.”

I’d rather be drinking upside down margaritas in Mexico, or yachting in Europe without a care in the world, but given my current bank account, that wasn’t going to be happening this year–again. Like most other creative types who feel incredibly lucky just to be able to eke out a living without selling their souls, when there’s work to be had, I have to work.

Last week just happened to be one of those weeks. It also just happened to be the first week of Koss’s spring break. Yes, that wasn’t a typo. The FIRST week of his spring break. Apparently the families in our school district worked so hard for the three months after our three-week winter break that they need a two-week spring break to oh, say, ski in Mammoth or sun in Hawaii.

Not that I’m bitter or anything. If I could afford to take FIVE weeks off in the middle of the school year and go somewhere glamorous, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’m sure if I left out enough bowls of cereal, the kid would be fine.

Instead, I sent my son to camp, where he golfed, bowled, fished, hiked, learned a few swear words, and had a marvelous time. I, of course, felt incredibly guilty.

Despite the fact that I take my son to school every day, spend a ridiculous amount of time volunteering at his school when I should be working, then pick my son up from that same school every single day, have a semi-nutritious snack waiting for him in the car, and am always there after school to help him with his homework, schedule play dates, play handball, and take him to soccer/basketball/baseball/whatever else is in season practice–if I spend even a small part of his school breaks working, I feel guilty. If I spend a large part of those breaks working, I feel really guilty.

And if, as was the case last week, I spend a part of those school breaks actually taking a break for myself, say by putting him in camp all day while I do some writing and then go to the movies, I feel really, really guilty. Especially when my husband surprises me and says he wants to go to the movies one night during the week. Do I admit that I’ve actually already seen everything worth seeing? Then I’ll feel really guilty since he’s the one who’s been working full time while I’m doing full time chauffer/ part time career thing from home, which is actually harder, I know, because I’ve worked full time before when he stayed at home, but I feel guilty saying that because I know he’d switch positions with me in a heartbeat if I’d let him.

It’s a vicious cycle. But I’m comforted to know that I’m not the only woman who was raised on a diet of guilt (though mine was well seasoned with plenty of humor, I should add, so that I won’t feel too guilty when my mother reads this). A recent article in the Washington Post told the story of a woman in Virginia who felt so guilty about leaving her family in the evening that she almost missed out on an interesting lecture–titled “Mommy Guilt.”

Honey, I feel your pain, but I’ve decided to play through it anyway.

Rather than guilt tripping about my need to have a little bit of time to myself–and taking it anyway–I’m going to make friends with my guilt and take it on a few more outings this week. You won’t see us on the slopes, unfortunately, but maybe you’ll see us at the movies.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound April 6, 2007