The Gift of the White Elephant

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The Holiday Game that Highlights the Best and the Worst

 

Photo by James Hammond on Unsplash, and slightly modified by the author

“Okay, everybody take a number!” she chirps while walking around the room holding a small jute bag containing blue slips of paper with numbers ranging from 1 to 25 written in black Sharpie marker.

25 slips. 25 people. 25 gifts that range from boring, to gag, to “oh that’s sort of nice.”

I draw my folded slip and put it in my pocket. I’m in the middle of telling some nonsense story that gets a laugh from my coworkers, spinning a yarn in between sips of good red wine.

It’s the annual holiday party. It’s the boss of my boss. We are at her house and enjoying catered appetizers. Two weeks ago we were commanded to attend and to bring a $15 gift. Pay for play. “Remember, $15 is a ceiling and not a floor!”

The White Elephant is among us.

Some people love the White Elephant. Some people loathe the White Elephant. One thing is for sure, there are no set rules for playing the White Elephant’s dangerous game.

How many steals, how many rounds, what value, and what is proper etiquette depends on who is running the game. The Ring Master controls the Elephant.

My favorite annual White Elephant game is played with a group of salty network engineers. Instead of using slips of paper with numbers, they use two decks of playing cards. It lends a little gambler’s air to the proceedings.

Today it is slips of paper and when my story is told and the laughs die down, I head to the kitchen to refill my cup. Only then, alone with bottle and corkscrew, I allow myself a peek at the blue slip in my pocket.

I groan. There on a background of robin’s egg blue is the number I least wanted to see. A single dark slash on a pristine paper background.

My number is 1.

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

(I’d have shown you a photo of the actual slip if I hadn’t washed it in the pocket of my jeans in the weekend’s laundry run.)

I have been chosen to start the game. Fate has determined that I select the first gift. How the game opens sets the tone for the entire White Elephant event, and that responsibility now lies with me.

I nervously gulp red wine from the plastic cup, tannins bitter on my dry tongue.

I recalled a day several years ago when I — a confused, jet lagged, and nervous American — rode a busy commuter train between Reading, UK and London. No seats available, I stood in the packed rail car near one of two doors. At each train stop the other door provided egress onto the platform, so I felt safe by the door across the aisle.

But as the train slowed, making its approach and then stop into Paddington Station, a train car filled with intense British commuters turned to look at me. I was unprepared for my moment, which demanded that I quickly and without delay lower the window, reach outside, turn the handle to open the door and usher these good people on their way.

It was a terrifying yet exhilarating event. I’m glad to say that day in London I executed the door as well as any foreign traveler could be expected to.

I drew from that memory to find my confidence on a rainy holiday evening in Northern California. My coworkers now turned to me to open the door to a successful White Elephant gift exchange.

I doubted myself in that moment just as I had doubted myself in Paddington Station. I knew I needed to stay grounded. I needed to visualize my way through the process. I needed to control the speed of the game.

And I needed to smile genially and do my best.

When the time was right and all were seated around the tree, my number was called. I raised my hand, saying “right here” and the crowd roared “oooooooooooh! Karen has number one! This should be good.”

I slugged back the last of my cup of wine and allowed the game’s host to refill it with champagne. The bubbles were too festive for such a solemn task, and I carefully set the newly full cup down on a coaster and stepped up to the tree.

Its genuine pine boughs welcomed me under its skirts. Salt and flour dough ornaments with a child’s paint job gave me a true horizon to focus on while I got my sea legs. I paced the half circle around the tree, side to side, like a caged panther scanning my holiday wrapped prey.

“Let’s see, what present looks good?” I said aloud, encouraging suggestions from the audience in the style of Price is Right.

Finally, when I felt I’d eyeballed every present under the tree, I made my selection. A long narrow box tightly wrapped in red and gold paper. It was crisp, clean, and inviting.

Quickly I skinned the paper from the gift and found an Amazon box. Cue a round of jokes about “Does anyone shop in the stores anymore?” and “Why would we? Amazon has everything!”

I pulled at the clear packing tape sealing the box and with no small amount of trepidation parted the flaps and peered inside. Would a pearl lay inside the cardboard oyster? Or only rotten sand?

My eyes landed on the treasure that lay within and my shoulders fell. Hope died when I saw clearly the item that began our game of chance.

I withdrew it from the box and said:

“I believe I have found the gift that will be coming home with me.”

With left hand firmly on hip, I took a solid stance and raised my right hand high above my head in the style of Lady Liberty, then announced to the overhyped crowd:

“It is a Donald Trump toilet brush.”

The crowd roared and the White Elephant smiled, for it was the perfect holiday gag gift.

“And with that,” I say,

“We are game on.”

 

 

Well If You Didn’t Want Me To…

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Today was my first day back at work after a nice and relaxing weeklong vacation. Always tough to get back into the routine.

Last week, I missed a big event at work. It was The Great California ShakeOut, an annual earthquake preparedness event. On a set day, they sound the sirens and we take cover and hold for a period of time to simulate an earthquake. Then when that is over, all must evacuate the building.

It’s getting us ready for “the big one” that we all keep hearing about. Practice like this has proven to be useful. We do this every year meaning once a year I get to check out what’s going on under my desk.

Since was on vacation and I live pretty close to work, I heard the sirens, but I was driving in my car so I hunkered down in my mind.

Today upon unlocking the door to my office I see my employer has left me a little gift in the wake of the ShakeOut event.



Lemme hear you whistle, baby…



Seeing this laying on my desk, I did what any mature, right-thinking adult would do when presented with a shiny red whistle. I picked it up and blew that sucker.

It’s loud. A little piercing. The sound rattled off the high roof of the building.

You’d think this would be occasion for another one of those “talking to’s” that my boss so enjoys providing to me. But alas no, she was in a meeting and missed it.

Instead the group administrator came over and stood in the doorway of my office, gave me the world record of stink eyes, then walked away.

I mean, if you didn’t want me to USE it, then why didja give it to me?

Anyhow, my pretty red whistle is now safely stowed in a drawer. Guess I won’t do that again.







Pretty whistle photo ©2016 Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone6 and the Camera+ App.



Too Much Time On My Hands

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Perfect posting for a Friday…

On Monday I had an early morning video call with a company in London. Oh those pesky time zones. Did you know that the US and the UK go to Daylight Savings Time (British Summer Time) about three weeks apart, and the US goes first? Monday was the first workday after the US moving ahead an hour, while the UK didn’t.

Yeah, I remembered that in the small hours of the morning and quickly dashed off an email to sort out the timing. Thankfully everything worked out.

To prepare for the video conference, I got up extra early and came into the office to set up and test all of my video gear. I just moved into an office a couple weeks ago and my video gear was in a heap in a drawer. Great.

I was able to quickly get it set up and tested and then ten minutes before the call, I was ready to go.

Ten minutes. That is a funny amount of time. Not enough time to really get anything going with work. I mean, I could have dived into email but then I just knew I would get engaged in something and would lose track of time.

But ten minutes is also kind of a long time to sit around and do nothing.

So I did what any adult professional in my situation would do. To “test” my video camera set up, I fired up PhotoBooth on my Mac and played with the effects.

I tried the one with hearts around the head, then the birds around the head. I tried the one that gave me frog eyes and one that produced a disturbing cartoonlike square jaw.

But none were quite as impressive as this. Let’s call it Alien Accounts Receivable Clerk. And your payment is overdue.



“Please remit payment or I will be forced to terminate your account”


So yeah, when the top of the hour finally rolled around, I entered the video conference still giggling.

A little too jolly for a fairly serious meeting with stoic Brits. *Ahem*

But I cleaned up my act, greeted the others on the call and then behaved like a grown up for a WHOLE HOUR!

Amazing. (hee, hee)





Photo ©2016 Karen Fayeth, taken with the PhotoBook App on my Mac and ten minutes of downtime plus post Daylight Savings Time exhaustion on my hands. Subject to the Creative Commons License in the right corner of this page.





Boring Training, Day 3

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Here I am, day three of my three day training. On a Friday, no less. Today is the final uphill slog for this training class.

It is a long climb and this hiker is weary.

Not sure whether I can continue on. Sooooo booored.

Today, instead of being “that guy” I have gone into slump mode. I already got called out for looking at my phone. I’ve eaten every pastry they offer (all terrible!) and I’m drinking caffeinated tea. Nothing is helping.

So now, instead of paying attention, I’m obsessing on a white board marker.

This marker, particularly.




This is a very respectable marker. It’s green, made from 90% post-consumer product, almost fully recyclable and refillable. This is a very smart and responsible pen, a good business choice by whomever purchased it.

So why am I obsessing? Well, one, it’s orange which is my current favorite color (it changes all of the time). And two because of this…(Look at the yellow tag)




That little pen reservoir holds the orange ink. You can watch it sloshing around in there. Neat!

And that tag, it tells me not to open up that sloshy ink container. Why!?! Because it is a brand new pen and opening it now will splash ink everywhere. So!?

I wanna! I wanna I wanna I wanna!

I am having to exercise the utmost in restraint, something I don’t have a lot of, to keep from ripping the end off that marker. Then I tell myself, “I’m steady handed enough, I can pull that off of there and have no problem! Without spilling a drop! Let me prove it to myself!”

But I know the truth. I’m not sure handed. I’m the girl that falls down. I will pop that cap off and ink will spring up in the air and aerosolize and there will orange ink from here to there, ceiling to floor.

That sure would be awesome, though.

Way more fun than talking about warranty claims, insurance provisions and cost accounting.

Barf.





Images Copyright 2013, Karen Fayeth, not that you’d want to steal photos of an orange marker, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone 5, the Camera+ app and no small amount of lack of attention to the subject at hand.




Hot Clamp, I Love You So

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Ok, I have another totally hot photo gadget product review to share. I was not compensated in any way for this. In fact I paid these good people for the right to be one of the first to try this out.

It is no secret that I love photography. That much is clear if you’ve been hanging around this blog for a while.

While I was trained to take photos using a DSLR, I have become more and more enamored of taking photos with my iPhone. I think that Flickr reports the number one camera used by its members is the iPhone.

It’s great to have an always ready to use camera that also makes great shots. So to that end I am also enamored of many of the gadgets out there to help make iPhone photos that much more cool.

There are a lot of little lenses out there, most come in a package of one fisheye, one wide angle and one macro lens. The form factor on these isn’t always great. I have a set that sort of sticks on with a gummy ring and the lens is a magnet to the sticky ring. Ugh. A *nightmare* if I’m outside where it is dusty (hello? New Mexico?). Plus the ring is pretty tiny and hard to use. There are some that are a kind of jelly stick on lenses that are in one piece but offer up the same sort of issues.

Along came the Olloclip and I loved it. The clip slipped onto the phone and voila, the three lenses were all attached and it was good to go. The Olloclip is pretty spendy at $70. The wide angle and macro lenses were great but to be honest, I don’t really like the look of fisheye photos so that lens never got used.

But the Olloclip and I got along great. I used the wide and the macro quite a bit on my iPhone4s. Photography life was fabulous.

Until I got an iPhone5. Then the Olloclip didn’t fit anymore. I was not really in the mood to blow another $70 so I figured I’d make do with what I already had in my kit (i.e. the sticky lenses, ugh).

Then I heard some rumors on Twitter about a company working on a lens kit that was like a clip or a clamp which meant it could be used on any make or model of phone, regardless of size, shape and thickness and if I desired could even be used on a thin point and shoot.

Well sign me up! Only…the product, called Mobi-Lens, wasn’t available yet.

Images could be found on the company’s Kickstarter page. I had not yet taken a foray into the world of funding a Kickstarter, so I thought I’d give it a chance. For just $40 I was able to choose a red clip that came with wide angle and macro. The fisheye lens is a separate clip so no need to order that.

So here we go, the cost is more reasonable, I don’t have an extra fisheye lens lying around I will never use, and this clip will work on generations to come of whatever phone I choose to have.

Yes, please!

The Good Man warned me that one of people’s biggest complaints about Kickstarter is that even if the project gets funded, oftentimes investors never see results from their investment. The product or project just never comes to fruition.

I read the Kickstarter page carefully and I watched the videos and I felt like these were decent people who had a great idea. They already had some finished test product and they just needed money to go into production.

SO…yes…I took a gamble with forty of my hard earned dollars. This was back in October.

A few weeks ago, my gamble paid off when this little beauty arrived:





It’s so pretty! It’s red! It has really nice glass lenses!

It is very easy to use and I’ve only begun experimenting with it.

So far I think this is the best macro cell phone lens of all the brands I’ve tried (and I’ve tried a lot!).

Here is a test shot of my work keyboard:





Pretty great!

I have much left to explore with my little Mobi-Lens but so far I am totally hooked and totally in love. I am happy with my lens and I hope this company continues to blossom.

They gave me an awesome lens and made me a believer in the power of a good project on Kickstarter. Win!




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Image of Mobi-Lens Copyright 2013, Karen Fayeth and taken with an iPhone5 and the Camera+ app.

Image of keyboard K Copyright 2013 Karen Fayeth and taken with an iPhone5, the Camera+ app and the macro Mobi-Lens.

Both are subject to the Creative Commons license found in the right column of this page.