When I lived in Oregon, I spent a great deal of time gardening and purchasing unusual plants. My front yard was filled with old fashioned roses, irises, spring bulbs, dahlias (summer), a contorted Japanese magnolia, a cherry tree, pale purple hydrangea, several lilacs, azaleas, hardy fuchsias, ferns, and many other native plants and ground cover. It’s heartbreaking to visit my house and see it overgrown with weeds and nothing trimmed. No doubt, many of my original plants died from neglect or were taken over by more hardy species.
I’m determined, therefore, to recreate the gardens I once had in the next house we purchase. Unexpected, an opportunity to start gathering the plants presented itself this weekend. The Eastside Fuchsia Society held their annual show and sale at the Bellevue Botanical Garden. After attending to a few pressing matters in the morning, I zipped over to the garden and quickly picked out seven varieties of hardy fuchsias.
You may be thinking, "Fuchsias need to be grown in pots and require lots of care." Yes and no. Hardy fuchsias, with proper care, flourish in the ground in the Pacific Northwest. They’re very rewarding, producing an abundance of delicate blooms that range from bright white to intense magentas, reds and purples. They also vary in the size and design of their blooms. The smallest are the size of baby aspirins. The larger can be several inches in length or width. Click to see Fuchsia Diana, Princess of Wales.
Below is a picture of my fuchsia on my porch. I’ll keep them there until we can get a house and plant them. I also took a couple pictures of the Bellevue Botanical Garden and some of the amazing fuchsias from the show
On Thursday, I officially moved out of my wonderful, downtown Bellevue apartment. It was hard leaving, having thoroughly enjoyed the spaciousness, conveniences and walking distance to wonderful shops, parks, high-rises, and dramatic municipal buildings. There are a dozen or more construction projects in downtown Bellevue. At night, and from a distance, you can see numerous construction cranes on top of the buildings. Their lights blink on-and-off like misshapen Christmas trees.
My new apartment, which Rich chose and leased online, is within walking distance from Microsoft and located on Lake Sammamish in Redmond. My apartment is in a small two-story building with eight, one-bedroom apartments. Mine is on the bottom floor, across from a culvert that drains into Lake Sammamish. It’s been completely refurbished with Pergo floors throughout, white cupboards, pretty granite-like counters, a cute covered porch, and lots of windows; although, the many trees in the culvert block most of the direct sunlight.
The best part is that Stacey, my step-daughter is moving out of her downtown Seattle apartment. She brought over much of her furniture and kitchenware. The furniture looks amazing. See the pictures below. The "headboard" for the bed I found in the trash "room" at the Verona. It’s the bottom of a futon and looks brand new. Stacey came up with the idea to use it as a headboard.
Unlike the Verona, where I parked in an underground apartment then took an elevator to my second-story apartment and scarcely saw other residents in the entire 7 weeks I stayed there, my new apartment is teaming with activity. People with their dogs constantly walk by. In the larger part of the complex, families play outside with their kids.
There are many Indian families with the women, and sometimes the men, wearing traditional clothing. Earlier this week, I watched a couple, dressed in white, billowy clothing, casually tossing a Frisbee to each other. The woman, in a white sari with a long, flowing scarf, reminding me of a swan, gracefully chasing after the Frisbee.
The apartment also has a private boat dock on Lake Sammamish, which I enjoy walking onto at night when the moon glistens over the lake and I can hear the private conversations of the water fowl.
This weekend, a woman that I worked with at Intel, visited Seattle along with her husband. It was a surprise time for his birthday. I was thrilled when they invited me to join them for dim sum on Sunday morning at the House of Hong in Seattle’s International District.
Because parking is scarce and I have an annual Metropass from Microsoft, I took the bus downtown. On the ride back, I sat towards the back and saw an advertisement for www.nwjobs.com posted inside the bus. It summed up the Pacific Northwest slant towards environmentalism, optimism and underlying disdain for hostile approaches to solving problems.
"Your new job I marketing pays so well you tip your waitress an extra dollar and she buys a lottery ticket and wins $1.8 million of which she donates $1.5 million to a build a nature conservancy that saves the red-legged frog which cause a bald eagle population explosion and the city swells with such pride that everyone goes to the Seattle Center Fountain in a group hug which inspires the entire world to call a cease fire and 135,000 lives are saved and the Virgin Mary status stops crying and global warming is reversed and the President steps down and our local millionaire geek takes over and we become the United States of Seattle."
A few weeks ago, I decided to go to the Microsoft company store to purchase a copy of Microsoft Office for my new notebook, which is currently running a trial version. After getting the software along with a portal Microsoft mouse, I casually walked to my car and looked up to see Steve Balmer, CEO of Microsoft, talking to a man in the parking lot. I had to look twice to confirm it was really him.
I was astonished to see such an important man not only hanging out in the parking lot, but not rushing off to an important meeting or being surrounded by assistants or being driven in a limo. In the four years that I was at Dell, I only saw Michael Dell twice, both speaking before a large audience.
On another occasion, our group was informed that they had to straighten up the area (which was opposite the Dell Enterprise Command Center), dress appropriately, and avoid loud conversations because Michael was going to be touring the Command Center. The expectation was also that we stay out of sight.
After seeing Steve Balmer, I rushed to my car and immediately called Rich. After talking for a few minutes, I purposely circled back to see whether Steve Balmer was still in the parking lot. Not only was he there, standing by his Ranger Rover, but he was shaking hands with several employees!
Hopefully, the next time I see him, I won’t be so bashful about walking up and voicing my admiration for Microsoft.
Several times at the Microsoft new hire orientation, we were told, "signup for the company picnic; the food is great." Mention "food" and I’m ready to go.
Not wanting to attend by myself, I invited my pseudo-sister from Portland, Wendy, to join me. She came up Saturday morning. She exhibited great patient and enthusiastic as I drove her around Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland to show her some of my favorite places on the "east side."
Our first stop was the Bellevue Goodwill, which is brimming with amazing "stuff" at ridiculous prices. I had initially visited Goodwill the day that Rich flew back to Texas. Depressed and wanting to keep busy, I went there to purchase stuffed animals, which I planned to desecrate and give to my co-worker for her birthday. That evening, I made her a Unimingo out of a unicorn head and flamingo body.
I also found an amazing, hand-made bowl, which was half-price. I happily shelled out the $2.50 for the bowl and also purchased a pair of pink Gloria Vanderbuilt jean (new with the tag still on) and a pair of beige pants out of Tencel (cellulose) and cotton.
Subsequent visits netted a $4.99 covered white bowl with splashes of cobalt blue and red, a sushi plate with a sea turtle, and a reading lamp so I could do sewing and needlework.
With Wendy’s help and persistence, I found a pretty purple Norm Thompson rain coat, red SOHO corduroy shirt/jacket… and the coup de grace, a sake set with aquamarine crackle glaze. The latter cost $3.47 without tax! And of course, I bought another stuffed animal to "reinvent."
My Unimingo was so popular that my co-worker pointed me to site of a woman who turns stuffed animals inside out then re-stuffs them. My first inside-out animal, a dopey white reindeer, combines the crudeness of the reversed fur with the finished seams of the "original" antlers, tail and scarf. His name is "Duh Deer."
My second inside-animal, a longhorn, turned out scary. So scary that I gave it away to one of my co-worker! Now everyone wants an inside-out animal, which just means more trips to the Bellevue Goodwill. Drats!
After Wendy and I exhausted ourselves at Goodwill — she bought some plastic glasses and totes — we visited my new apartment. Rich, having grown frustrated with my indecisiveness about finding an apartment several weeks ago, went on line and filled out the lease information for the Archstone Redmond Lakeview apartments on Lake Sammamish in Redmond.
That evening, he got a confirmation that his lease had been approved along with the address of the apartment he rented. The next morning, Saturday, I went to the complex to sign some papers and also check out the apartment, which I had only driven by. I search and searched for Building A until I noticed a small footbridge going up a slight hill. My apartment is on the bottom floor of an apartment building with just eight apartments! One side of my apartment is next to the parking lot. The other is by a large walkway so there’s only an apartment behind mine and one above. Best of all, it’s being completed refurbished with Pergo floors throughout, granite countertops, white cabinets, new lights, and appliances, including a little washer and dryer. The door of the apartment was open so I was able to peek inside!
Prior to showing Wendy my new apartment, we walked down to the apartment’s dock on Lake Sammamish. Flying low over the lake was a bald eagle with something in its talons. It landed in a tree by the dock and we watched it chomp on its catch, a wiggly fish!
Equally interesting was the vast number of water lilies, most with blooms, in Lake Sammamish. They stretched around the perimeter of the lake.
After visiting my new apartment, we went to one of my favorite places, downtown Kirkland. Situated on the east-side of Lake Washington (Seattle is on the other side), Kirkland is funky, trendy town with many new and renovated apartments, condominium and houses. It’s proximity to Microsoft has made it a desirable place to live.
The downtown area, situation on the water, features several blocks of restaurants, hair and nail salons, art galleries, clothing stores, and other shops. Also in the area is the Island Sailing Club, which Rich wants to join so he can occasionally go sailing.
The next Monday, Sunday, Wendy and I took a shuttle bus from the Bellevue Community College to the annual Microsoft picnic at Mountain Meadows Farm located on 200 acres in Snoqualmie Valley (about half an hour from Seattle). The picnic spans three days. EACH day, 11,000 to 19,000 employees and their significant others and children attend. Happily, rain was expected on the Sunday we went so attendance was light – maybe 8,000 – 9,000 adults and giggling kids!
The farm specializes in large events and picnics for companies like Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, Honeywell, Alaska Airlines, T-Mobile, and Amazon. It’s a giant meadow that backs up to Mount Si, a dramatic rock-like formation that was named after a local homesteader, Josiah "Uncle Si" Merritt and was featured in the show Twin Peaks.
Most of the area was utilized for the picnic. The "Food Village" was designed to quickly feed thousands of people. From a distance, all you see is a tall fence made out of plywood with tents spaced every twenty or thirty feet in front of it. Under each tent is a serving area where you could walk up and grab the featured food, ranging from hamburgers to veggie burgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, gyros, bourdon chicken, ribs, corn on the cob, French fries, pot stickers, salmon, pasta, Caesar salad, potato salad, fruit, brownies, shortcake, and assortment of ice cream bars.
Under several tents were large flatbed trailers with built-up sides filled with ice and every type of imaginable soda. There were also trailers of water and a beer and wine garden. Supposedly, when the ice melts or the sodas are gone, they simply tow it away and bring in another trailer.
Near the food area was one of two stages of entertainment. We listened to several acts, including a memorable quartet called the Baud Boys, which consisted of Microsoft engineers. They sang a combination of songs; the most memorable being one about a man wanting to make love to his wife, but only after his finished his video game. His initial request that he’d be with her in a few minutes stretched into his recommending that she brush her teeth and maybe read a book.
At the far end of the site were wagon, pony and train rides, paddle boats and a petting zoo. Along with having a children’s stage, there was an arts and crafts tent and several face painting areas and air brush tattoos. Taking up a large space were 18 of the largest inflatable I’d ever seen. They must have been up to 30 feet in height. My favorite was a huge pirate ship with an enormous octopus climbing up it. There was also Godzilla attacking King Kong, numerous enormous castles and slides. In another area, there were smaller inflatable for toddlers.
At the opposite side, were giant chess and checkers, horseshoe pit, giant basketball, putting green, basketball shower stall, golf cage, and another stage. Several volleyball courts were set up for a volleyball tournament. Adults could also visit the casino, bingo, arcade, and massage tents. For those wanting to take out there wallet, there was a tent that sold picnic-themed items like t-shirts, hats, water bottles, chairs, bags, and toys.
For the athletic, there was a 24-foot climbing wall and a bungee wall. Throughout the picnic were Dr. Shrinko’s Amazing Shrinking Picnic Puzzles that required nerd (or engineering) ability to solve. I know that Rich is going to relish solving them next year.
What did I forget… several small tents with mystics reading palms, table-top cue golf, radio-controlled car races, Frisbee golf, and vendor tent… something for everyone!
By the time we walked to the buses, I had consumed an outrageous amount of food, including a lovely dish of macaroni and cheese from a food tent in one of the children’s areas. Wendy must have wondered when I was going to pop!
The most extraordinary aspect of the picnic happened within minutes of us getting off the bus. Wendy walked up the picnic entrance and recognized a friend from Lake Oswego (Oregon) High School. Thousands of people at a picnic in Snohomish, Washington and Wendy knew someone! What are the odds?
This is my third week at Microsoft. Happily, Dell is rapidly becoming a distant memory. Comparing the two companies is like shopping at Wal-Mart versus Neiman Marcus. There are almost no similarities, aside from both being Fortune 50, multinational organizations in the high-technology industry.
Orientation at Microsoft lasted nearly two days. There was over 100 new and returning employees, interns and people from Microsoft vendors in my orientation class. After providing my name, I was given a large plastic envelop filled with information on benefits, Microsoft polices and IT processes, coupons, and other information to help ensure a smooth start. I then visited four stations to have my picture taken for a card key, fill out personal information, confirm my right to work for Microsoft, and verify I’d reviewed and understood my offer letter.
The presenters during the orientation were engaging and sometimes very entertaining; their slides matched what was in a large ring-bound orientation book… which I referred to numerous times in my first two weeks at Microsoft. The focus, like Microsoft’s mission, centered on helping people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential. We were instructed not to be late to meetings, respond to emails promptly, be respectful of co-workers, take responsibility for our actions, and be willing to stand up for what’s right and what’s best for customers. In addition, the contributions of the individual contributor were highlighted over those of upper management.
While it’s easy to present idealistic concepts during an orientation, putting them into practice is another issue. Amazingly, I’ve found people at Microsoft to be very respective, responsive and extremely focused on improving the customer experience. My position is very process-oriented with a large team doing site and content management, editing, web productions, metrics, and strategy (my position). The team supports numerous marketing managers. What’s done by two dozen people at Microsoft is done by three or four at Dell.
Along with presenting a great work experience, the environment is fabulous. I’m in a three story building that’s "V" shaped with several bumps. Most of the offices either have a window or are only a short walk from a window or the sunlight-lit atrium in the center of the building. My office is quite large and designed for two people. Because I’m new to Microsoft, I don’t qualify for an office with a window. Prime office are assigned to employees based on seniority and not rank.
The building backs up to a quad area that’s shared by two other, oddly shaped buildings. Surrounding the building are terraces filled with beautiful plantings and plantings. The cobblestone quad also has several fountains and numerous benches, and tables. Visit this site to see the Microsoft campuses and read some fun comments about the Microsoft environment.
Across from this grouping of buildings is a large field, where during the day (and on weekends), you can see soccer and cricket matches between Microsoft employees. There are numerous sports fields on the campus along with quads to relax or work outside. The insides of the buildings are equally commodious with groupings of comfortable chairs and couches for meetings or putting ones feet up as they work. Natural light filters in through the numerous window and atriums.
Most parking is below ground or in parking garage, leaving lots of space between the buildings for lush landscaping and interesting architectural features, terraces and covered walkways. It’s like a college campus, only more high-tech with people scurrying by on foot, bicycle, skateboard, scooter, and even Segway. On the streets are shuttle and city buses, hybrid cars that transport recruiters from building-to-building, very expensive sports cars, lots of economy, compact and mid-size cars, and an occasional truck or SUV.
I’d been told that Microsoft has free coffee and sodas. I never envisioned that the break areas would have refrigerator cases like you’d find in convenience stores stocked with 36 different types of beverages from fruit juices (apple, cranberry, grape, grapefruit, orange, and V8) to Pepsi and Coke products (Fresca, five varieties of Talking Rain, Cherry Coke, Coke, Zero Coke, Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, root beer, etc.) and milk (low fat, non-fat, chocolate, low-fat chocolate).
Across from the refrigerator cases is a Starbuck’s coffee machine. You simply select the cup size and type of coffee or hot chocolate then push "brew." The machine grinds the whole beans and instantly brews your beverage. You can also select from dozens of varieties of teas, cider, and powdered hot chocolate.
Being the Pacific Northwest, paper, aluminum and polystyrene recycling bins are everywhere you turn. Everything is recycled. In the cafeteria, signs instruct employees to scrap their styrofoam plates then deposit them along with foam cups, plastic silverware and bottles into the polystyrene bins. While some companies like to label themselves as environmentally astute, others, like Microsoft, truly do whatever is necessary to save or recycle valuable resources.
During my first week at Microsoft, the printer stopped working. Within an hour, a technician showed up and fixed it. The technicians are remotely alerted by the printers whenever they break or start to run low on paper or toner!
There’s no voice mail. Instead, calls are routed to one’s computer. A message is then sent via email informing you that a message was recorded. You simply click on the email and listen to the message via your computer’s speakers! You can also dial from our computer and receive faxes directly to your computer.
Working at Microsoft is like being in a Jetson cartoon. It’s very hip, automated and forward-thinking!