Two Weeks. Two Months. Two Years.

Two years ago I texted my team to work from home for a bit. I thought I was asking them to go home for a couple of weeks, maybe a couple of months, not a couple of years.

Text from me to my team reading “Hi team. For the sake of everyone’s productivity, I’m going to recommend that the MT crew all works from home for the time being, I understand that everyone has concerns and is sharing news and things they hear, but the entire atmosphere in the area we sit in no longer lends itself to being a productive work environment.”
‘the’ text

Like most of corporate America, I’ve been working remote since March 2020. The last day I was in the office was March 17, 2020. I remember it like yesterday, I texted my team that evening and told them not to come back in the next day. At the time my team was split; most of us in Connecticut and a smaller group in Maine. I had returned to the office on Monday after two weeks being remote and out for family reasons to find a sea of uncertainty, unknown and unease. While some schools were already remote and parents started to pull double duty that week, the state hadn’t gone into lockdown just yet. It was clear that productivity was low – and I couldn’t fault folks for wanting to talk about this new thing that posed so much unknown. I latched on to that low productivity to justify sending the team home. At the same time, I knew there were conversations about people being uncomfortable and not wanting to be in, but we still weren’t in a open culture that everyone felt they could freely share their concerns. While I told my boss I made the call due to productivity, and it’s my official reason in the message my team got, if I’m honest, I sent the team home for their mental well-being. Being home was safe. They controlled what happened there. They weren’t worried about coworkers who had been traveling. Being home enabled them to put themselves and their families first, while getting their work done at the same time. If I had to do it over, I’d do the same thing. We’d be home before the company (really the state) mandated it. The difference is today I’d be honest. I’d stand up to leadership and say that even though it wasn’t the norm and even though other teams weren’t doing it, it’s what my team needed. With the specific group of people, our life circumstances and the environment we worked in, being home and removing that anxiety is exactly what the team needed.

It’s been a long two years. We have missed out on many interactions and social events. The opportunity for chance encounters is gone. Networking takes a lot more effort. We see more of the people we live with….remember when we could say we spent more time with the people we worked with more than the people we lived with? Hopefully we have better work life balance. With restrictions coming to an end, and more offices reopening, even if in a different capacity, we find ourselves on the verge of learning to manage and deal with yet another new norm. I can only hope this new norm takes the best of both the normals we have already been accustomed to.

I Miss the Office?

Asking my boss if I could get my team back in the office on any sort of regular cadence was not something I thought I would do again.

Today marked 688 days since I was last working from my desk in the office. While I’ve been back to my desk once to pack up my monitors and bring home my belongings, and I’ve been to our other campus in Connecticut for project meetings, today was the first day I was back at work for a “regular day”.

I was greeted by a thermal temperature scanner this morning instead of a hello from the security guard. My desk was empty; only my nameplate, chair, an outdated 2020 calendar and a blank white board with some markers were there. What is even weirder is that this is likely my last time going to this particular desk as I have a new team that sits in a different building. I love being remote, but today I realized how much I miss the office.

Raised standing desk with minimal items on it
my office desk

I do not miss my hour plus commute. I do not miss getting gas multiple times a week. I do not miss 4:45AM alarms. I enjoy wearing leggings daily – even when my presentation calls for a suit jacket. I miss the ability to have chance encounters. I miss the learning that occurs just from sitting near others and listening.

While today was not the norm, and I don’t know when regular office trips will be back on the calendar, l can say for the first time in a long time that I eagerly await the office reopening. I look forward to having team lunches on the regular and sitting at a conference table. I look forward to reading a person’s entire body language again. I know we are ready to go back to a new normal…. We miss parts of the old normal and have learned that we do some things better now.

Today I had a glimpse of the old normal, albeit masks and thermal scanners were new additions. I am hopeful that when I left today it was really just for a short absence from the office and not a couple more years of only meeting people via Zoom. I look forward to the next time I am in the office and when going in weekly or bi-weekly is the norm again…. though I don’t think any amount of excitement will make me ready for my next 4:45AM alarm…

ALLY Leadership

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I). We’ve all heard the term by now and know that corporations across the globe are working to be more inclusive. But what does that mean for each of us as leaders within our immediate teams? 

I’ve always believed that being a people manager is more than just approving time off and having a monthly check-in with staff. Just ask my team, they will confirm that I tell them time after time that I am here to be an advocate, mentor, cheerleader and champion for each of them – the only thing I’m not is a babysitter. With a new year beginning, and two new rotational employees joining my team, I felt an urge to spruce up my Leadership Philosophy but struggled with how and what I wanted it to look like. I am not changing who I am as a manager; I don’t want to set a new vibe for the team, but something in me told me that my old philosophy (it’s not really that old, just barely 2 years old) needed a fresh look. 

My manager recently shared the video “Inclusion Starts with I” from Accenture with our team.

I’ve seen this video before, and every time it speaks to me. When I watched it earlier this month, something inside me knew exactly what my Leadership Philosophy 2.0 needed to look like. I didn’t start from scratch; heck, half of it is word for word from my old version. It sounds cliché, but almost every slide in this video spoke to me, but primarily 

“it’s about the type of world we want to live in and the choices we make every day.”

I want to live in a world where we don’t have to talk about diversity, inclusion and equity. Not because they aren’t the “hot topic” anymore, but because it’s so engrained in all of us that we don’t have to try to overcome these obstacles anymore.

My new leadership philosophy is what I hope others see in me already: ALLY

ADVOCATE

Be an advocate, champion and cheerleader for the team. Be an ally: speak up for everyone, speak up and against injustices. Treat everyone by the golden rule; treat others the way theywant to be treated. Listen to everyone’s thoughts and give all ideas an equal chance. Everyone deserves respect.

LAUGH

Have fun. Don’t be too serious; it’s OK to have fun at work. Remember to laugh and keep smiling. Mental health is important. Burn out is real – let’s do what we can to prevent that.

LIVE

Live a life you love. Live a life you’re proud of. Live the life you post on social media. Work-life balance is important – work to live, don’t live to work.

YOU

Be YOU, be an individual. Allow everyone to stand out as their own selves. Celebrate the uniqueness inside everyone. Don’t compromise your morals. Be honest; to yourself and others, in what you do and in identifying your motives. 

(For those wondering, version 1.0 was: Maintain Balance, Authenticity, Respect & Integrity.)

Check out the original post I published on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pulse/leading-ally-lauren-mary-gotimer-cpim/

🌻Sunflowers🌻

Sunflowers have always been a favorite of mine. They are strong, but delicate. Bold and beautiful. Tall or short. Big or small. The beautiful hues of yellow and orange against the green leaves and stems has always been so attractive. They light up a room, dress up a mantle and still have a rustic feel. They are the perfect summer and fall flower. They go with everything!

Thanks to COVID wrecking havoc on normalcy this year, I decided to turn two planting beds at our house into sunflower beds this year. I had time to water them and care for them…not that much was needed. Early May (the 3rd to be precise), I weeded, raked and mixed compost into a triangular planting bed next to the driveway. I added ~75 sunflower seeds to it, covered with compost and cedar mulch and began watering every day. About a week and a half later, I planted another ~25 sunflowers ina bed out back, around a rock and near the vegetable garden. I was worried at the beginning, day 6 of the first bed being planted brought a freak snow squall to us in May, and I so worried my seeds wouldn’t come to life.

First bed of sunflower seeds planted in 2020

Every morning, I wake up and the first thing I do is water these two beds, along with a bed of dahlias and the vegetables. It didn’t take long for the sunflower seeds to germinate and start growing. As they grew, I continued to water the, weed the beds and cut off dead leaves from the stems. Early August treated CT with a Tropical Storm and some crazy winds. In prepping the property, I dealt with the vegetables first and almost ran out of string. As a last minute attempt to try and protect the sunflowers by the driveway, which happen to be about 4’ above the driveway at the top of a retaining wall, I looped my last bit of string around every other stem and lashed them all together hoping they’d be strong enough as one unit to survive the storm. Once the storm passed and the winds died down, I went out to check on them, and the rest of my plants. The storm only took out ~10 sunflowers, so I consider us lucky to have survived with power, most plants surviving and the only tree damage being a few tree tops falling on the edge of the property.

Many of the early blooms from 2020

Tropical Storm Isasis also brought the first sunflower bloom of he season. On August 8th I cut the first yellow sunflower to bloom from the bed by the driveway, along with a dahlia and allowed them to be the centerpiece of the mantle. Since then I’ve harvested about 15 more sunflowers and have a few more ready for harvesting in the morning.

I have learned a few important things this year growing my own cut flowers…

  1. Plant more than you think you need. You will loose some and deer will eat some. There’s always room for a base in another room and no one says no to a bouquet of fresh cut, home grown flowers.
  2. If you plant out back, do it inside a fence. Just because you don’t see the deer doesn’t mean you don’t have them. I know they moved out of the backyard when we moved in, but they have come back. Maybe I didn’t notice because I wasn’t always home. Or maybe it’s because they only seem to be out back in the dark, but they are here and sunflowers with no fencing are a nice snack for them. Next year the vegetable garden will be expanded to include room for more flowers.
  3. You don’t get privacy from a sunflower bed alone. Sunflowers by the driveway are pretty, but don’t provide the privacy you hoped they would. It’s also to open and winds can be damaging. Next year I’ll be building a lattice fence on the 2 back sides to offer privacy from the street to the yard, and to provide a wind shelter for the sunflowers.
  4. No matter how hard we try, getting a 4 year old cat to pose for pictures with flowers is much harder than when they were kittens…

Charlie ‘posing’ with some sunflowers

A Place for Prayer

It’s a Sunday and I can’t go to Church. My week always starts with a fresh cooked breakfast at home and Sunday morning mass. I feel like a part of me is missing and I can’t fully quench my yearning for mass and the Eucharist in any other form. I know I can pray – I’ve been doing a lot of that. I know I can stream mass, but it’s just not the same. As a Catholic, I get the honor and privilege of receiving the body of Christ every single time I go to mass. And now, thanks to a pandemic that has turned our lives upside down, even Sunday mass is missing. Even Easter Sunday mass will be missing this year. (CT is going into lockdown tomorrow evening until at least April 22nd!)

Last night I sat looking up at the stars and night sky, saying the rosary and praying that the curve flattens. The calm peace and tranquility that I find in nature is the closest feeling I have to the fulfillment of attending mass on Sunday morning. So today, dreading the idea that I don’t know when I’ll be at mass next and not knowing when I’ll be able to take another trip, I visited a local state park. I went for a short hike and at the end, after doing my stretches, I found a big rock next to a brook to sit, and pray. I prayed for peace. Not world peace, but peace in everyone’s heart and mind. I prayed for the health of my family, friends and staff. That we remain healthy, not only that we avoid COVID-19 but for our mental health in this troubling time. I prayed for happiness. As we find our new normalcy, many people have to give up things that make them happiest and I hope that they can find something else to bring them that sense of happiness and joy.

What are you praying for in these troubling times?

{Creative Palette} Cheese Tray & Crate Planter

Kelly at 2nd Chance Restoration was back at her DIY Creative Palette classes in April – this month we made a cheese tray and a planter! I was super excited for the planter since spring has been long awaited and spring flowers always make everything more cheerful.

Like always, we started by sanding our first project – the planter. we started with an unfinished wooden crate, like this one you can find at Michael’s. We then stained it with a Fusion’s Satin & Finishing Oil – that would allow us to put the planters outside. Because the inside would be lined later, we only needed to stain the outside. Kelly offered a grey and a brown – I chose to do the grey. While we let those dry, we started on our cheese trays – sanding and then staining. The tray itself can be made from any piece of wood, ours were circular, though other shaped would work too! For the circle, any hardware or craft store should carry tabletops, a small one is perfect for this project. For the tray, I did brown since it’s going to be a gift, otherwise I would have done grey to match my tray I made last year!

While we continued to let everything dry, we started on the cheese cutting board itself – and made them just like the ones from the Cricut 101 class I did with Shauna back at Kelly’s in February. Since these for for cheese trays, we had sayings that played on the names of cheese to pick from. Kelly had premade the vinyl cutouts, and we applied them to the back of cutting boards from the dollar store – I did a square cutting board, but she also had circular ones available.

Once the cutting board was done, our planters were relatively dry – so it was time to add wheels to the bottom 4 corners. Most used a drill to make it easier to screw them on, but you know me, I had to do something differently, so I used a regular old crew driver, but it worked out just fine! Then we took black plastic garbage bags which were cut open to be one large piece of plastic, and lined the inside of the painter, stapling the plastic to the inside of the crate; this will protect our crates from the water for the flowers we will put in them. (It’s the perfect size to put two medium size plants in their plastic planters inside the crate, just make sure to poke a few holes in the plastic before watering so the water doesn’t pool in the bottom.)

The final touch for the planter was to apply the vinyl “welcome” to the mini chalk board and then apply some Velcro to the back of the chalkboard to use that to adhere it to the outside of the crate. The best part here is you could make multiple chalkboards and change the saying for various occasions!

Once our planters were down, we needed to drill holes for the handles at each side. There really is no exact place the handles needed to be, so I put them in 1″ from the “edge” of the platter to the middle of the handle. And just as every other handle installation for me goes at Kelly’s, I needed to make a few minor adjustments to get the handles attached 😊

Then, with handles installed and the tray dry, we set the cutting board in the middle and our trays and planters were complete!

{Creative Palette} Life-size Firecrackers & Pots

May marked what is I think only the 2nd time I didn’t make it to Creative Palette class at 2nd Chance Restoration 😢. Due to a crazy schedule, I just couldn’t make it fit in last month, and boy was I bummed!! Kelly had some great projects, including 3 life size firecrackers that I so wish I was there to make.

For the firecrackers, you just need some 4″x4″ wood, rope, straw ribbon and paint – Kelly used Mineral and Milk paint, specifically because the MMS Milk Paint dries super fast!

To start, it’s time to sand! Once you have sanded a 12″, 18″ and 24″ 4″x4″ on all six sides of each piece, it’s time to paint all four sides white. While you the white paint was drying, you can get started on your pot.

In comparison to other projects we’ve done, the pot is super easy. Around the top rim, glue some twine down and wrap the entire top rim with twine. Additionally, the class added a vinyl saying to the pot: “you grow girl”.

Once all the paint is dry on the firecrackers, apply a 1″ wide piece of tape around the wood where you want the blue area to end, about 1/3 of the way down. Then tape from there to the bottom one each corner – you want to cover everything you want to keep white. Also, on the top, apply some vinyl or tape stars to cover the white stars that you want to have showing. Before painting the other colors, drill a hole on the top, just large enough to stick the end of some rope in, to be the wick on the firework.

Then paint everything above the tape band on the sides blue and paint the lower middle section one each of the four sides red. While you wait for this to dry, you can carefully paint the top white.

The the final step for the firecrackers is to glue the rope in and take off the tape. Then you can take some straw ribbon and wrap it around the firecrackers for a completed look!

Memorial Garden

I already learned that it’s still hard dealing with the fact my mom isn’t here….I realized that the 2nd year without was a lot harder than I anticipated. Even knowing all that, I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that would hit me today returning to my middle school. As soon as my sister and I were out of middle school, my mom became an Algebra teacher there. Today they dedicated the Patricia Gotimer Memorial Garden in her name. The garden came about as an Eagle Scout project for one of her students in her last year of teaching; even leaving school at Thanksgiving, my mom made a profound enough impact on this young man that he took the initiative to build a garden for her at her school.

Even knowing that I’d see her friends, colleagues and some former students, I wasn’t prepared for all the feelings – and that became abundantly clear as I couldn’t even get through my short speech I had prepared without tears, lots of tears…

Mom, this one’s for you. You always loved seeing your students succeed and watch them do amazing things…well Tommy knocked this one out of the park. The old beat up courtyard that used to just be used by skateboarders, well now it’s a permanent place for you at ERMS.

It has been said, “Being a good teacher is a lot like being a good gardener. Good gardeners are optimistic and patient. They are able to see the potential in those struggling young seedlings and enjoy watching them grow, develop and bloom. They give special tender loving care to those few plants that are struggling and not thriving.”

East Ridge was a second family to my mom; both the staff and students. My mother’s best friends were some of you here today. You were her friends, confidants and family when Sarah and I grew up and moved out. For about 1200 Ridgefield students, she was their math teacher who loved to teach Algebra and she was so fiercely passionate about her students’ successes. For 15 years, she started the school year by decorating her classroom with students’ favorite numbers covered in pictures of things that were important to them. I imagine if she created her own, it would be the symbol for Pi, adorned with math symbols, a deck of cards, a picture of Sarah and me, a Yankees’ logo, pictures of the beach and flowers. When she wasn’t preparing class plans or grading quizzes and tests, she always loved to garden.

I can think of no better way to honor my mom than through this garden. It is comforting to know that there will still be a little place in Ridgefield for her even though she is gone. On behalf of my sister, Sarah, myself and our entire extended family, we want to thank everyone involved in making this garden happen. We would especially like to thank Tommy for his idea and hard work to create this lasting memorial for my mom and thank the entire community for the love you have shown us over the past few years.

{Creative Palette} Deconstructed Canvas & Wooden Tray

March marked the 1st Creative Palette class of 2019 at 2nd Chance Restoration! As always, Kelly had some amazing rustic/farmhouse designs picked out for our projects. We created a wooden tray and a deconstructed canvas sign during class. The wooden tray was the same one we created in February 2018; it’s important to note that Kelly tries not to do the same project again – but this one was a customer favorite and requested by many, so she caved and did it again.

We started the evening with a project that guest teacher Shauna Rogg was back for, the same Shauna from Cricut 101. Shauna passed out a blank canvas sign, such as this one which can be found at any craft store, to everyone. We took our 8″ x 10″ canvases and using an X-ACTO knife, we cut the canvas right outside the staples on the back of the frame. Once we had the canvas removed from the frame, we laid it down flat underneath the frame and taking the same knife, we trimmed the canvas to be the same size as the outer edge of the frame as we would be applying an iron-on and attaching the canvas to the back of the frame. With the canvas ready, we took our wooden frames into the staining room and stained them. Kelly had three options of stain to pick from – a dark brown, light brown and light grey – I used a mix of the two browns. We then placed the frames on another table to dry and went back to the classroom to begin on the second project; our trays.

Kelly already had the boards cut for us; we needed two 14″ boards, four 21″ boards, 2 handles, 8 screws and sand paper. Step one was to sand all of our boards and assemble our trays upside down. The two 14″ boards which would be on the top of the tray with the handles, were set down on the table at the end of the 21″ boards perpendicular to them, laying on top. Once the trays were set up, we used a power drill to screw the long boards to the short boards from the bottom (so you don’t see them when you have the tray out and in use). We then flipped the trays right side up and measured out where we would be installing the handles, marking the spots for the handles to be attached with a permanent marker. Then we headed back into the staining room to stain the tray. Last year I made a grey one, so this year I made a light brown one – the trays were then put on Kelly’s drying rack to dry.

While our trays dried, we cleaned up our tables, grabbed our frames that were now dry and then got a pre-made iron-on from Shauna which said “home sweet home”. We decided where on the canvas we would put the iron-on. Many people put their phrase centered and straight, but I wanted to make mine on an angle, because I don’t like to follow all the directions exactly. Then we used Shauna’s t-shirt press to adhere our iron-on to the canvas. We let them cool a little bit and then removed the plastic from the canvas and got it ready to assemble our final product. To finish the frame, we laid the frame down upside-down, and put the canvas upside-down on top of it, so the blank side of the canvas was facing us. Then we took a staple gun to attach the canvas to the back of the frame, and viola, we had our finished product!

It was then time to grab our dry trays and finish those up. We started by drilling holes for the handles through the tray from the top down. Then we countersunk the holes from the bottom, about 3/4 of the way through one board so the screws would reach into the handles. We then used a phillips head screwdriver to attach the drawer pulls to make our trays complete!

Cricut 101

In December I got myself a Cricut Maker and used it to make Christmas presents but hadn’t used it much since. With no Creative Palette classes at 2nd Chance Restoration yet for 2019, I was super excited when a Cricut 101 class was announced for late February.

The class was held in the same location as the Creative Palette classes, but had a guest teacher; Shauna Rogg. Shauna and Kelly had the classroom set up for us when we arrived. The benches had plenty of power cords for everyone who brought their Cricut with them and they even had both of theirs available for anyone, like me, who didn’t bring their Cricut. All that was required for class was to bring your computer or iPad to log into Design Space.

We made two projects in class that night – a cutting board and a dish towel. The first project we made was the cutting board with a vinyl decal on it. The cutting boards were 8″x8″ squares with four feet on the bottom; you can buy cutting boards like this at the dollar store, but really any size clear cutting board would do. We used border #M8109136 as the main element and then I used Soirée Lettering – Grace Script for my word to put in the middle of the border. When we started making the projects, it dawned on me that the cutting board would be a great birthday present for my Grandma, so I used her last name in the middle. After sizing the border to the right size, I ensured the word was centered in the middle and then welded it together. Before sending the project to the Cricut, we also attached and flattened it all. Once on the printing screen, we needed to be sure to mirror the image since we would be applying it to the cutting board from the bottom. The hardest part of the night was the weeding; since the border had so many aspects, making sure you were only weeding the excess was tricky, but we all did it. Once the weeding was done, we laid out some contact paper to use for the transfer and then laid it down on the table, sticky side up. The final step was to center the vinyl on the cutting board, which was not too hard using the feet of the cutting board to temporarily put it down and once it was centered, then flipping it over and pressing the vinyl onto the cutting board before removing the transfer paper. Our final products came out so well!

Just like I used a different font for mine, there was someone who used a different border for theirs and it came out fabulously!!!

Once we all had our cutting boards done, it was time for the dish towels which we did with iron ons. Shauna got flour sack dish towels from Amazon and prewashed and ironed them for the project. Step one was to find the image of the state of Connecticut with the word home written across it. Once we had that, we inserted the heart shape over the portion of the state where our town was located.

Then using the slicer tool, we removed the heart and left ourselves with a blank heart inside the state. Then most of us added “is where the heart is” text underneath. We were now ready to print the iron-on by mirroring it and then weeding out the excess material. Once the iron-on was ready, we positioned it on the hand towel and used Shauna’s industrial t-shirt press to apply it, but you just need an iron or a Cricut Easy Press to do it yourself. The final outcome was so cute!

While I had used vinyl before, I had never thought to mirror it and apply from behind the material, and this was my first go at making an iron-on. The class was great, Shauna even sent us home with a small handout with notes from her on tips and tricks to remember when using our Cricuts. This isn’t going to be the last Cricut 101 class 2nd Chance Restoration holds, so if you’re like me and need to use your machine a bit more, you should keep your eye out and make it to one of the classes!!