May 06 2016

Feeling flush for no good reason

My company sent me to the US on a video shoot in March, but it took me until today to get around to filing my expense report for the trip.

Between the multiple nights in the hotel in Anaheim, California, and the numerous cab rides to and from two major airports, it worked out to be a pretty decent chunk of change. When I saw the total that would soon be deposited in my bank account, I reflexively announced to my Facebook friends that “drinks are on me this weekend!” Not a particularly appropriate reaction considering that this is not in any way “found money.”

I’m not sure if this is a “Swedish thing” or not (I have no memory of it working this way with my US employers), but basically when I travel on business, only the airfare is paid for immediately by the company. (This was true of my previous Swedish employer as well.) Everything else falls on the employee to cover with a credit card provided by the company. BUT … and here’s the rub … the employee is personally responsible for paying that credit card bill and claiming the expenses back from the company, using travel reporting system that everyone except the most hardened accounting type absolutely HATES. (Also true of my former company’s system.)

Adding insult to injury … even though you’ve paid for everything with a “company” credit card and therefore have an automatic electronic record of everything you spent, you still have to submit a physical paper receipt for every single expense. In 2016. Gaaaaaaahhhhh!!!

Now to ensure that the employee can get the money for the expenses they’ve laid out *before* the credit card bill comes due, these “corporate cards” typically give you extra time to pay the balance … 60 days instead of the usual 30, for example. But because the travel expense reporting system is so complex (and in my case, as a relatively new employee, requires the support of another colleague to navigate), I HARDLY EVER manage to get my expenses claimed before I have to pay the bill. And it’s hard for me to imagine that I’m alone in this situation.

Of course I also realize that I’m pretty darn lucky to be in a position to essentially “loan” my company the money necessary for me to travel for work. If I had to claim the expenses back in order to pay the “corporate card” bill, I would have screwed up my personal credit rating a long time ago.

On second thought, the drinks are still on me this weekend!  😉


May 03 2016

Is it security theater? Or is it Italy?

I recently returned from 5 days in northern Italy … one of those very rare occasions when I was able to combine a business trip with a bit of leisure due to my Swede being up against a “use it or lose it” deadline on some vacation days. Mix in fact that the weather was still cold & crappy in Sweden last week and that Dr. Darling had never been to Italy before, and it was kind of a no-brainer.

We are both pretty savvy travelers, but I freely admit that I tend to relax and let my guard down a bit when I’m on-the-road with my Swede, who is not only hyper-organized but also seems to possess some kind of built-in GPS. (Among my American friends and family, she’s regularly referred to as “Magellan.”) I had finished up my work responsibilities mid-afternoon on Friday, so by the time we arrived at the airport for the flight home on Sunday, I was pretty relaxed.

But Aeroporto di Bologna-Guglielmo Marconi harshed my mellow” pretty quickly. Here’s why:

1) Even if you’re already checked in (which we were) with only carry-on bags (which was all we had), you have to see an agent in order to get a boarding pass printed … but there is no signage or instructions for where this specific queue is located, so you end up mixed in with everyone who needs to check in and check luggage … which is a big problem if you haven’t allowed time for it.

2) You have to scan your boarding pass to enter the security area and then scan it again when you start the carry-on luggage check, but there is no signage of any kind explaining this, and apparently no staff willing/able to inform you of it in English.

3) With the 2nd scanning of the boarding pass … your “carry-on suitcase” goes on a conveyor belt and passes through some sort of box (maybe to check for size/weight … it’s not clear), but your small personal item (backpack or purse) stays on your shoulder until you are reunited with your luggage on the other side of this first box.

4)  It’s at this point that you are to take all electronics (and I suppose, liquid toiletries … again, there are no signs or instructions or anyone around who will speak English with you) out of your bags and put them in trays to pass through the x-ray machine … which is confusing in the moment because you think your suitcase at least has already passed through some kind scan. The suitcase & your backpack are also sent through the x-ray machine at this time.

5) You then walk through a metal detector before rejoining all of your belongs on the other side of the x-ray machine … including the small liquid toiletries that you have accidentally left in your carry-on bag in the confusion, but for some reason have NOT been detected.

Or maybe the security officer scanning the bags did notice and just didn’t care? I’m the first person to admit that most of the dance one has to do in order to get on a plane these days is theatre. Whether my tiny bottle of conditioner goes through the x-ray machine from inside my carry-on luggage or separately in a clear plastic bag has no impact what-so-ever on my safety or that of my fellow passengers. Maybe the Italians are just acknowledging that?

But they could still put up a couple of signs.

Apr 14 2016

Bogarting the coffee

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had an epiphany this morning. I realized that I drink coffee … especially the 1st cup in the morning … the way many people smoke weed. I hold each sip in my mouth for several seconds (sometimes much longer) before swallowing it. Seems I’ve been doing it for years and just never gave it much thought.

But this morning, while standing in the closet in my underwear (it’s a walk-in just off our dining room that stores/conceals a whole bunch of frequently used stuff in addition to a portion of my wardrobe, such as it is), I was suddenly aware that I had a massive mouthful of coffee. And it had been there since I took a big glug from the mug parked on one of the dressers in our bedroom on the other side of the apartment.

Does anybody else do this or am I as weird as I think I am? Is it because that first cup of the day, usually made by Dr. Darling and lovingly left in a thermos for me, is so delicious? Am I trying to make the experience of it last as long as possible? Or am I just lazy about swallowing at that hour of the morning?

Whatever the reason, I can say with absolutely certainty that savoring a big mouthful of coffee while standing around in your underwear doesn’t make it any easier to decide what to wear.

Feb 08 2016

Because you’ve always wanted to hear Adele’s “Hello” covered in Swedish

I am crawling out from under the work rock that’s had me covered up since returning from my Christmas & New Year’s holidays in the US to share a remarkably good cover of Adele’s monster ballad “Hello” IN SWEDISH … a language that certainly is not beautiful when I speak it. But it’s truly gorgeous here. Enjoy.

Dec 19 2015

I’m not alone in my Star Wars shunning!

A good friend of mine who is married to a self-confessed Star Wars nerd (who is also a good friend of mine) recently confessed to having never seen any of the Star Wars movies. The subject came up when she asked me if Dr. Darling or I were interested in seeing the new film with her husband, because she just couldn’t get excited about doing it.

It was at that point that I had to come out of the closet and admit to having never seen any of the Star Wars movies either. I also realized that I had no idea if Dr. Darling had any interest in seeing the new film, which seems like something I ought to know after 13+ years of living together. Turns out she has also never seen any of the Star Wars movies, despite being a nerd on multiple other levels.

So naturally I was delighted when the below video turned up in my Facebook news feed today. WE ARE NOT ALONE!  😀

Dec 13 2015

In case you ever doubted the charm of a British accent

I’ve always been a sucker for a British accent (and yes, I know there are at least a dozen variations of them).  But this fun segment with some members of the case of Downtown Abbey perfectly demonstrates why.

Stephen Colbert asks Hugh Bonneville (the Earl of Grantham), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary) and Allen Leech (Tom Branson, the former chauffeur) to do a scene from the show using American accents, and hilarity ensues.

This further supports my opinion that Michelle Dockery is a national treasure, and who knew “Tom Branson” could be so funny?

Dec 08 2015

What’s the deadline for learning to love something?

Some time during the past few weeks marked my 2nd anniversary as a runner. And by “runner”, I mean somebody who runs regularly (and slowly) as part of a fitness routine … not someone who logs masses amounts of miles/kilometers for speed in competitive events or even “fun runs.” And that’s probably the major reason I completely spaced this particular milestone. After more than two years of plodding away at it, I still don’t think there’s any such thing as a “fun run.”

And the sad thing is that I want to love it SO BAD. I want to love running because I’ve always admired people who do it and thought I could benefit from the solitary, meditative nature of it … though somewhat ironically, I NEVER run without music or a podcast in my ears to distract me from the pain and boredom.

I want to love it because it’s such a convenient and effective aerobic workout that can be done anytime, anywhere with no special equipment except a decent pair of shoes (and something that will allow me to listen to music or a podcast to distract me from the pain and boredom).

But mostly I want to love it because my friend Sophie loves it. She’s getting ready to run a 50k ultra-marathon on Saturday with NO music or podcasts in her ears… something that sounds like many hours of complete torture to me. And yet I still envy her. Or maybe I just envy her passion for it.

Two years on I’d settle for just liking it. Hell, I’d even be happy with the occasional runner’s high. Is that too much to ask?

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