At This Office, It is OK to Show Up Late

The Office, courtesy Wikipedia.

The Office, courtesy Wikipedia.

You know what I miss most about my day job — besides the paycheck? I miss the water cooler.

It’s not that we don’t have plenty of cold drinks and snacks available here at home. I’m perfectly well sweetened, salted, and hydrated–repeat–repeat again–with a special emphasis on sweets during a certain time of the month. Believe me, I’ve got the literal water cooler covered, except for the whole “free” part.

What I miss is the water cooler chitchat about the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy and The Sopranos. I looked forward to our Monday morning quarterbacking of Tony and Carmela’s latest relationship upheaval or Meredith’s most recent ill-advised conquests.

Our little chats were like standing play dates that lasted 13 weeks, not counting re-runs.

Now that school’s out, I can’t even kibbitz with the PTA moms about the latest episode of Sponge Bob. I’m already feeling withdrawals, and it’s only the first week of summer.

Ironically, now that I no longer have an office to go to, I’ve come to appreciate the pleasures of The Office on TV. I came a little bit late to this delightfully deadpan show, where inappropriate remarks, petty behavior, and zero productivity are all in a day’s work.

And unlike the real offices I’ve worked in, at the Dunder-Mifflin paper company, no one ever has the energy to go out to lunch, let alone talk about important political and social events like TV shows.

The workplace scenarios are oh-so adult and familiar, even though the humor is oh-so wonderfully, and quoteably juvenile. If only I still had a cubicle to toss lines over like, “This is our receptionist, Pam. If you think she’s cute now you should have seen her a couple of years ago!” Or another favorite: “You know what they say about a car wreck, where it’s so awful you can’t look away? This is like a car wreck that you want to look away from but you have to stare at it because your boss is making you.”

My teenage nephews appreciate the show as much as I do, which comes in handy, since I no longer have office-mates to discuss it with.

We can hardly wait for the July 13 “webisodes” to begin. I’m betting they’ll be about Toby, the HR guy, who is, in my humble opinion, a character with a lot of unexplored potential. As Michael (the boss) says, “Toby is in HR, which technically means he works for corporate, so he’s really not a part of our family. Also, he’s divorced, so he’s really not a part of his family.”

His HR-like HR-policies have been the driver behind most of my favorite moments at “The Office.”

For example, when Toby talks with Michael about inappropriate fraternizing with employees, Michael summons the troops to make one of his infamous announcements.

“Attention everyone, hello! Yes, I just want you to know that this is not my decision but from here on out, we can no longer be friends. And when we talk about things here, we must only discuss work-associated things. And uh, you can consider this my retirement from comedy. And in the future if I want to say something funny, or witty, or do an impression I will no longer, ever, do any of those things.”

Jim, who is actually the only character on the show who resembles anyone I’ve ever worked with, then says, “Does that include ‘That’s what she said?'” (See what I mean about the nephews appreciating it?)

Michael replies, “Mmm hmm, yes.”

Jim: “Wow. That is really hard. (My nephews are rolling on the floor at this point, as is my husband.) You really think you can go all day long? (On the show, Michael nearly bursts trying not to say it.) Well, you always left me satisfied and smiling.”

So much for dignity, I am practically peeing my pants by the time Michael finally says, “That’s what she said!”

Did you see that one? Wasn’t it hysterical? OK, you’re drafted. You are now officially my new water cooler buddies. I’m so happy that we can be that kind of friends.

That’s what she said!

Leslie is clearly desperate for some office humor. If you’ve got any to spare, email That’s what she said!

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 30, 2006.

Obsessed (or Possessed) by Scrapbooking

Vintage Scrapbook, Tulane University, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Vintage Scrapbook, Tulane University, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

The fine line between “fun hobby” and “neurotic obsession” finally blurred for me last weekend, as I stayed up ’til 3 a.m. hammering little metal plates printed with sincere sentiments like, “A teacher takes the hand, opens the mind, touches the heart” onto little scraps of paper that would eventually find their way into a scrapbook for Koss’s teacher.

I don’t know if it was hammering my already-blackened thumb for the 13th time or downing my 17th Hershey’s Chocolate Kiss and Red Bull cocktail to stay awake, but I had a pre-dawn epiphany: I may not be completely well in the head.

My fascination with scrapbooking began about 13 years ago. I was planning my wedding, a sentimental time of life known to turn even the hardest heart to mush, and you all know that I’m pretty mushy to begin with. Plus, I had recently quit my 70-hour-a-week job, while my husband-to-be’s career was gearing up. In other words, I had a lot of time on my hands, and for the first time in well, ever, the money to match.

I was fish in a barrel at that first Creative Memories workshop. Talk about easy pickings. Cardstock. I must have ten of each, in every single color. Squiggly-edged scissors? I’ll take a dozen. Stickers? I get to buy stickers, and I don’t have to share them with kids? I’ll take two — of each — in every single design and color.

Visions of perfectly ordered memories danced in my head as the U-Haul pulled up to haul my stuff home.

Once home, I immediately got out the merlot, the M & M’s, and the dental floss. No, I wasn’t being attacked by plaque. The scrapbooking teacher said that I was being plagued by something much more sinister: acid.

That’s right, acid, the evil culprit that’s working right this very minute to deteriorate your precious memories into puce yellow, burnt orange and avocado green (no wait, those are just my pictures from the 70s). I tore my old-fashioned, outdated, worse than a shoebox, adhesive-style albums out from under my bed and used the floss to free what pictures I could from the evils of acid.

I went through two bottles of wine, a case of dental floss, seven bags of M & M’s, and three boxes of Band-Aids that night. I saw the sun come up and made friends with the guys on the graveyard shift at the 24-hour Ralph’s down the street. I was definitely hooked.

Having rescued most of my childhood photos, I carefully, painstakingly found them a safe and pretty home in an acid-free environment. There my memories can express themselves freely, creatively, and often elaborately.

So what if that acid-free album costs three times as much as the one with the 40-year life expectancy? And who cares if my son will need a climate-controlled, five-car garage to house all of the scrapbooks he’ll inherit?

The great thing about scrapbooking is how it brings families together. Or, at least it would, if my husband wasn’t actually a man, or if I let my child touch any of my things.

I’m not crazy. My head is well. I’m making memories, here, so back off. Just one more page and then I’ll get some sleep.

Is Leslie obsessed or possessed by scrapbooking? You be the judge, and tell us what you think at email.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 23, 2006.

Some fine marriage advice

Marriage of Walter John Beckwith and Myrtle Ellenor Brown, 1920. Item is held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Marriage of Walter John Beckwith and Myrtle Ellenor Brown, 1920. Item is held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Last weekend we celebrated my in-laws 50th anniversary. Can you imagine being married for 50 years? Remember how long that movie Titanic was? Now watch it 127,750 times. That’s how long 50 years is. Drop an iceberg on me now.

It’s not that I don’t love my husband, I do. And even though I’d had a glass of champagne, I still meant what I said when I vowed, “till death do us part” some 12 years ago.

And I only dream about his death once a week, maximum.

But 50 years of marriage. Fifty years. I had to find out their secrets.

To understand the challenges of this quest, you have to understand that my mother-in-law, lovely and easy-going as she is, is not exactly a fount of personal information. I know more about the complete strangers I eavesdrop on at Starbuck’s than I do about my mother-in-law. She’s not exactly what you would call a talker.

In my family you have to talk about everything. And talk, and talk, and talk, until you’re so tired of talking you forgot what you were talking about. We talk so much that my dad sometimes has to take little naps while the rest of us talk.

Then we talk about that.

My husband’s family doesn’t get the whole talking thing. They’d rather play games, rhyming their words rather than actually communicating with them.

A sample conversation with my in-laws, as we drive by the Madonna Inn: He says, “It’s very pink.” She says, “Do you think?” He says, “Should we have a drink?” She says, “That wouldn’t stink.” He says, “Wink, wink.” She giggles.

She giggles a lot, which brings me to the first marriage tip I’ve gleaned indirectly from my mother-in-law: Marry someone you think is funny.

If it’s too late for that, try to find things you both think are funny. Babies and the disgusting things that ooze from their various orifices are great for this. I’m told that teenage puberty, particularly when coupled with mom’s menopause, can also be a hilarious bonding experience for couples. I can’t wait.

I know I’ll never be a match for my mother-in-law’s impressive ability to zip her lip when it comes to complaining or even commenting on the eccentricities of her husband. They always manage to present a united front. My husband and I are pretty good at that too, although I do try to make sure that Koss loves me more by buying him candy. Nonetheless, we’re equally firm about disciplining him when he gets too sassy, even if I do sneak him a Reese’s for comfort every once in a while.

And I really do try not to laugh too hard when my friends agree with my complaints about my husband. Somebody’s got to stick up for the poor guy, and I know he would never complain about me to his friends. It’s nice to know that we’ve got each other’s backs. Right, dear.

I prod my in-laws for more marriage advice. “Three little words,” says my father-in-law.

I know this one. “I love you.” Right? They laugh.

“Honey, I’m wrong,” guesses my husband. More giggles.

“Buy me toys,” guesses my son, who’s good at math and gets the word count right.

“What is it?” I ask. My mother-in-law smiles and giggles some more.

“Everything’s just fine,” she says, knowing it will drive me crazy. My father-in-law laughs along.

But how do they really feel? I’ll never know. And that’s “just fine” with them.

Leslie is always eager for marriage advice. You can reach her at email.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound.

Wading my Way Through Swimsuitophobia

Swimsuits of Binibining Pilipinas 2008, by Paul Chin from Manila City, Philippines, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Swimsuits of Binibining Pilipinas 2008, by Paul Chin from Manila City, Philippines, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

“Mommy only goes in the water when we’re on vacation,” my son told his buddy when we ventured to the pool last week. The poor kid didn’t even realize I knew how to swim until a couple of years ago, when an unfortunate heat wave forced me to don a swimsuit for the first time since he was born.

It’s not that I don’t know how to swim; it’s just that I’ve got a bad case of swimsuitophobia. Scientists have still been unable to find a cure for this malady, despite my countless hours at the gym, and hundreds of pounds lost and found, and lost and found again, Swimsuitophobia affects nearly every woman I know. In fact, the fear of buying a bathing suit has replaced fear of public speaking and leaving the house without wearing clean underwear as the number one fear for women over age 30.

The rational side of me — yes, I do have one, dear — realizes that I’m a mom; my body has already done its duty for the survival of the species. I’m 30-12 years old, and I’ve got far more miles on me than were covered by warranty. Plus, I’m smart, and some people think I’m funny.

After all, it’s just a bathing suit, and everyone is going to be checking out the teenage girls anyway.

But still, the idea of putting on a bathing suit in public terrifies me. I can barely do it by myself.

Body image and Big Mac issues aside, I think the root of swimsuitophobia lies in the dressing rooms. Does anyone really want to know what their back fat looks like from 17 different angles? Think of all the homeless people Nordstrom’s could house if they had a companywide mandate to purchase only two mirrors per dressing room. As an added bonus, they would probably sell more bathing suits.

I was this close to whipping out my credit card and buying a tasteful turquoise suit there the other day. The color was perfect, and it seemed to fit most of my body just fine in the first 13 mirrors I looked at. Then lo and behold, parts of me oozed out disloyally on the sides. Apparently my rebellious body wasn’t willing to be confined by the 37-way stretch of this season’s Lycra. How did my left boob get under my right arm? And where did the other one go? How many people does that rear end belong to? It was like one of those clown cars, only buttocks kept piling out of it.

Within moments the store’s funhouse mirrors exposed every Hershey Bar and popcorn tub I had eaten in the past year — even the ones I had consumed standing up to avoid the calories.

All of the sudden the lights in the dressing room got brighter, bringing into full focus my stretch marks, my leg veins, and lack of a tan. I needed to shave my legs, wax, get a tummy tuck, pedicure, liposuction, therapy, and a spark plug change. This was rapidly becoming a very expensive swimsuit.

Meanwhile, my sweet little boy was squeezed in there with me, offering helpful little comments like, “Is it supposed to look like that?” And, “It’s okay, dad can always take me to the pool.”

Needless to say, we left without the suit.

My son told my husband about the shopping trip, and asked him why he didn’t help mommy pick out her bathing suits. He mumbled something about, “Finely honed survival skills,” and then reminded him that, “Mommy only goes in the water on vacation.”

My son nodded in agreement, but then looked a little perplexed. “Then why don’t we ever go on vacation?”

If you really want help Leslie with her swimsuitophobia, she’s available for free travel during the entire month of August. Email your itinerary to email.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 2, 2006.

Courting Families

Dubai Mall by Nishat Khan, courtesy Flickr

Dubai Mall by Nishat Khan, courtesy Flickr

Special Events Attract the Family Market

Parents hunting for great places to go hang out with friends, grab a bite, shop a bit, or entertain their kids for a few hours, need look no further than their local shopping center. While malls are usually thought to be family friendly, some centers are pulling out all the stops to foster that image.

“In general, the entire industry recognizes the value of being family friendly,” says Alice Love, Senior Manager, Marketing for Pacific View Mall in Ventura and La Cumbre Plaza in Santa Barbara. But her centers, both owned by the Macerich Company, go the extra mile to court the family market.

For example, La Cumbre Plaza’s weekly Certified Farmers Market — which already drew hundreds of visitors in search of fresh organic produce, flowers and other gourmet goods– recently ran a promotion inviting children to experience the farmers market by offering them a special tour each week.

“They would stop at the different vendors and learn how that particular fruit or vegetable is grown,” says Love.

Upon completing the tour, they were taken into a store that happened to specialize in children’s furniture, where they got to do an art project. They created their own placemat, which was then laminated so they could take it home to use. Each child was also given a token to purchase something from the farmers market.

San Luis Obispo, has taken the farmers market concept a step further, regularly drawing crowds of 10,000 downtown during the summertime, and about half that during the winter. People of all ages flock to the downtown shopping area where the streets are blocked off every Thursday night for barbecued ribs, fresh strawberries, local wines, and of course, kid-friendly entertainment like puppet shows, balloon animals and live music.

Some very lively music, the clanging of budding young percussionists and drummers, can be heard at Ventura’s Pacific View Mall’s “Kids View” gathering. Children and their parents gather at the food court each week for what Love calls, “educational entertainment.”

The playbill varies. “One week it might be entertainment with marionettes, then we may have someone that comes in with musical instruments and all the kids get to play with them, which is quite a racket,” she says.

While programs like “Kids View” cater to the preschool crowd, who need parental supervision, other centers are finding that drop-off educational programs like SCORE!, Sylvan Learning Center, Kumon Math & Reading Center, and California Learning Center offer the perfect opportunity for kids to work their brains while mom gets her shopping done, unencumbered.

Working with nonprofit community groups is also a great way to bring families to a center, and engender goodwill for your business. La Cumbre Plaza recently drew large crowds when it hosted the local Girl Scouts’ Amazing Cookie Kick-Off event. In addition to cookie relays and games, there was a cookie rally where some of Santa Barbara’s top restaurants and chefs showcased creative desserts made with Girl Scout cookies that were then judged by a panel of local celebrities. The winning recipes were showcased at the restaurant, on television, and in the local newspaper, thus supplying loads of free publicity for both the Girl Scouts and the mall.

Signature family events can help create new community traditions, like Pacific View Mall’s annual Lemon Fest, held the weekend after Labor Day. Tying into the center’s heritage as a lemon grove in the 1920s, the festival features live entertainment, a kids play area, arts and crafts booths, and food booths.

“There’s something for everybody in the family to do,” says Love, whose team has been successfully running the Lemon Fest for the past five years.

Also drawing on their agricultural heritage for festival inspiration — and additional retail traffic — are downtown Watsonville, with its Main Street Watsonville Annual Strawberry Festival, and Carpinteria’s annual Avocado Festival.

Finally, there’s nothing like annual holiday events to bring out the kids and their parents. La Cumbre Plaza, Pacific View Mall, Main Street in Huntington Beach, and the Pismo Beach Pier are among the many shopping areas that feature in-store trick or treating. And it would be a challenge to find a mall that doesn’t have a photo-friendly Santa available the day after Thanksgiving.

While family friendly holiday activities abound in December, Pacific View Mall offers something unique, at least in California. The first Saturday in December brings “Holiday Traditions, Ventura Style” to the region, trucking in 30 tons of snow for the annual celebration, which concludes with fireworks, and Santa lighting the community Christmas tree.

It’s wet, it’s messy, and it’s incredibly fun, says one regular attendee.

Sounds a lot like parenting, doesn’t it.

Originally published in California Centers Magazine on June 1, 2006.