Saturday, February 16, 2019

Ah, February

Ah, February

You are managing to pack a more than your fair share of cold and snow and sleet and ice and rain into your days this year.

We've been hit with one storm after another this month.  Now, if I still lived in Minnesota, I'd expect this weather.  If I still lived in Minnesota, I wouldn't have any illusions about being able to make it around in the winter with a Mustang as my only means of transportation.  I don't still live in Minnesota, so I'm having a bit of trouble getting around this month.

I've been driving my convertible for thirteen years now.  In a more usual Kansas City winter, there are about 3-5 days where the streets are too icy to safely take the car out.  (I've been fine with that because if the streets are too icy for the car, they're too slick to be safe.  I'm past the stage where I think I need to risk life and limb to get to work when the streets are in rough shape.  Especially since technology allows me to work from home!)  This month, we've been hit with a new storm every week.

About the time I dig out, another wave hits.  Two weeks ago, it was snow.  Last week, it was a good inch of ice, this week's weather brought a beautiful powdery snow.  There's more ice moving in tonight, another round of something forecast for Tuesday.

And so, for the first time in years, I find myself questioning my choice in transportation.  How many days can I stay home because of ice before I get in trouble at work?  Perhaps it would be wise to join the herd and get an all-wheel drive something that sits up a bit higher and is able to get around in the muck without trouble.

In this case, if I just put off making any sort of decision for just a few weeks, procrastination will be on my side.  It's already the middle of the month, and February can't last forever.  Already, the days are a bit longer.  When it's not cloudy, the sky is starting to lighten up by seven in the morning.  It's not yet dark by six in the evening. 

And, the snow is beautiful.  Down deep, in my heart of hearts, this is what winter is supposed to look like.  White, clean, almost too bright to look at in the sunlight.  Don't tell my neighbors, but I don't even mind the shoveling - there's something about being outside in the quiet cold, working hard enough that I leave layers of garments trailing in my wake, that feeds my spirit.  (as long as the power is on.  turn off the promise of warmth when the job is finished, and all bets are off!)

March will usher in spring, and once spring comes I'll be able to put the top down on my way to and from work.  When those days come, I'll know this once again:  I have exactly the right car for me.

This, too, shall pass.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Still Winter

It took me until Wednesday before I stopped seeing red about what happened at work last week.

I was working from home because when I went outside at dark-thirty to get in the car, half the drive was dry, half was a sheet of ice, and the forecast wasn't promising. I decided driving downtown wasn't worth the risk of sliding on the ice, and went back inside to plug in and get to work.

I took advantage of a quiet part of my day to call my friends who had been so rudely let go. They were already starting to move on; looking at open positions, contacting recruiters. It helped to hear their voices, to know they were OK, to get to say the goodbyes I hadn't been able to say last week. We traded emails; they promised to keep me posted. And I was finally able to begin to let go of what happened.

I have to admit I was grateful for the ice storm that swept in Wednesday night. The depth of the ice was highly variable across the region, but my neighborhood got hit pretty hard. After the temp had dropped below freezing, it managed to rain enough to form a nice 1/2 layer of ice, which gave the following sleet a nice base to stick to. We ended up with over an inch of ice on the ground. Only one guy even tried to get into the office on Thursday morning.  Three days later, I've finally gotten the driveway clear enough to be able to leave. Just in time for more snow to come by tonight.  (We seem to be at the edge of a persistent weather pattern. It shifts north a tad, temps go up into the 40's.  South, and we're in the 20's with freezing rain. *sigh*)

I enjoyed the chance to work from home Thursday and Friday. I especially enjoyed the part where the ice didn't bring down the power in my neighborhood at all - for reasons best known to itself, it didn't stick to the trees much at all. (I was a little worried, given my experience in mid-January.) So there I was - warm, lots of hot tea, and no distractions as my mind finally let go of enough outrage for me to focus on business and the project of the week. Good, bad or ugly, I needed to start to move on.

All of this angst has not helped with my annual battle with the February blues. The days are longer, but not much. The trees are still deeply asleep, spring seems far away.

Remember to breathe, I tell myself. This, too, shall pass. I've been looking for the beauty in each day, and sure as sunrise, I find it. A child giggling in front of me in line at Costco. The oranges and pinks of the morning sky. The taste and smell of my morning latte. Hot showers on cold mornings.

I remember a conversation I had several times with Libby: Today is the only day we have; try to live it well.

I'm doing my best.  anyways.




Sunday, February 3, 2019

Layoffs

I've been at my current job for roughly eighteen months.  I came on as a contractor, then was brought on as a regular employee six months later.  For a long time after starting, I maintained my contractor persona.  I was professional, but kept to mostly to myself, spending my working hours quietly chipping away at the project they'd hired me to complete.

Over time, though, my coworkers slipped under my skin.  Mark, who sat across the aisle from me began to tease me about my party-hard habits (this on the days I spoke the least).  He made me laugh.  I started to reach out a bit more, and learned about Mark's kids and Kulani's husband.  Greg came on, and started to come down with me for my daily lunchtime workout.  I talked to Skip about his wife's illness, and laughed with Larry about the number of times I stole his second desk chair - he started to threaten to charge me rent.  I learned to care about their lives and their families.  I found myself settling into the rhythm of the office, looking forward to walking out in the evening with my coworkers become friends.

Then came last Thursday.

We'd heard rumors about layoffs around the corner, but nothing had been officially communicated, and you know how an office rumor mill can be, so I thought the old game of telephone had blown things out of proportion.  I couldn't have been more mistaken.  When it came down, it came down hard.

The day started normally enough.  I came in, sat down, and started working.  Around 9, the bloodletting started without warning.  Without any notice at all, the managers started coming around to cubes, tapping  the occupant on the shoulder.  They brought the person into a private office, only to come out about five minutes later.  After closely watching the hapless now-former employee shutdown their computer, and confiscating all corporate devices, the managers left them to pack up their stuff and get out the door.

I missed the first part of this - I was on the other side of the floor, and came back to find the first desk empty, its personality gone along with its owner.  I hadn't been gone for more than five minutes, but didn't even get a chance to say goodbye.

Another guy from down the aisle came by to sadly say his farewells as he walked out the door.  After he left, I thunked down in my chair, my legs deciding they'd had enough.  The next hour was just awful.  Watching the parade in and out of the office, wondering, waiting to see who would be tapped next, almost hoping it would be me, just to get it over with.  I quickly gave up all pretense of work; I just sat and stared at the aisle in disbelief.

After the dust settled and the endless hour finally drew to a close, they gathered those of us who remained into a conference room - too many empty chairs, too many missing faces - and told us business was down, cuts were happening across the company.  The managers who'd had to deliver the news looked almost as shocked as the worker bees who sat staring numbly at one another, taking mental inventory, assessing who was still there, which faces were absent.

At the next meeting, the leader tried to make some joke about how we were all arrayed at the back of the room; the guy next to me muttered, "Well, yeah.  That's how it looks after a bomb goes off - there's a clear space in the middle, with all the rubble gathered around the edges."  He nailed it.

When the shock started to wear off, I was furious.  I've ducked my way past a lot of layoffs in my career; I've never seen one handled so poorly.  I get it, sometimes layoffs happen, but they don't have to happen as they did last week.  No warning, no communication, no chance to prepare, no chance to say goodbye.  Just a regular Thursday, turned nightmare.

I'm still struck by the rank incompetence of it all.  Was no one looking at the numbers?  (It's a privately held company, so numbers are not published.)  They gave raises (to some, not me) in September.  In December, they said the company was doing well enough to start funding a 401K match after the first of the year.  But at the end of January, we need to cut staff by 30%???  Really???

I've been looking for an hour to find a positive note to end this blog entry on, but it's just not there.  Good Is, but Evil Is, too, and I saw it raise its ugly head last week.  

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Goodbye, Mrs. Young

 

(leftmost image from:  https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6594737/Colorado-woman-1st-WWII-female-pilots-dies-96.html)

I first met Mrs. Young in 2008 at a women's retreat/workshop, at a remote ranch on the high plains of New Mexico.  Her face was a maze of deep-set wrinkles, her smile lines etched deeply into her skin.  She was towing an oxygen tank; macular degeneration had stolen away much of her vision, leaving her only broad impressions of shape and color.  She didn't let these small things stop her from enjoying life, and she served an important role at the workshop - those who needed a break from the larger group would come to sit in the sunshine with her for a spell.  She had a way of listening that helped you to sort through your dilemmas.

She also had a beef with AT&T - my then-employer.  The company had been sending her incorrect bills for some time, and she was most fed up with them.  When she found out where I worked, she pounced - "Can you get those idiots to set things right?"  (She had a way with words.)  I promised I'd try.

And try I did, over the next five years.  I escalated her cause multiple times, only to be told it couldn't be fixed because of some obscure regulatory issues.  I couldn't fix the larger issue, but I had little trouble getting through to the service center to manually adjust her bill each month.  I got to where I knew many of them, those months it took only a few minutes to get the corrected amount.

The amount was never consistent, so after I had the bill adjusted, I'd call her.  "Hello, Mrs. Young, this is Janice from Kansas City", I'd start each call - if I identified myself any other way, she had no idea who I was.  I'd give her the correct amount, and then we'd talk for fifteen minutes or so, trading news of the books we'd read, the people in our lives.  (She switched from AT&T to her local carrier about the same time I left the company - the new people never got her bill right either, she once told me with some relish...)

As I got to know her, my admiration grew.  She was one of the first women pilots in this country, one of the WASPS from WWII.  She raised five children on her own after her husband died, in a time when single mothers, even widows, were viewed with some suspicion.  She had little patience for bureaucracy or fools, and didn't hesitate to call a spade a spade.

I visited her several time over the years - we'd spend a few hours catching up over lunch.  Once, about five years ago, I picked her up at her place, and she started directing me to the restaurant.  About halfway there, I turned to her and said, "Do you have any idea how disconcerting it is to be taking directions from a blind woman?"  She howled with laughter.

I haven't been able to call her for the last few years; her hearing degenerated to the point where phone calls were just frustrating, so I switched to writing her letters instead.  Every once in a while, she'd call me to give me an update on her life - I had no problems hearing her, and she was unable to write letters.  it worked.

Dang, I will miss her.  She was one of my heroes.  She was a living example of how to not let the little things get you down - if I can learn to do it half as well as she did, I will have done well.

I hope she is able to breathe deeply, to run, to see once again the faces of those she loves.  I hope she is flying free in one of her beloved airplanes.  I hope she can peer over the side of the plane, laughing, to see us waving her onward into the sun.

Fly free, Mrs. Young. Be well...

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Electricity Appreciation Week

"
You don't know what you got 'til it's gone"...

The snowfall was beautiful - the kind of snow we rarely get in Kansas City.  It landed softly, quietly, covering the ground and coating every branch of every tree and bush, turning the entire city into a sepia-toned photograph.

As it was coming down, I was two hours west, in Fort Riley, helping my nephew pack up to get ready for his deployment later this week.  I didn't think much of it when I got the notification on my phone that the power had dropped; it's not unusual to lose power when it snows.

But afternoon wore into evening, and I never got notice the power was back on. I arrived home to a dark street; trees all over the area had given way under the weight of the snow on their branches, and had taken out a vast swath of the power lines in the city.  Still, I was optimistic as I went to bed under an extra layer of blankets.  The crews would be working non-stop to get us back online; surely, in the morning, I'd be back in business.

Morning came, and as I was out shoveling the drive, the lights came on across the street and down the block, but my section of houses remained dark.  Ooohhh.  This did not bode well.  As the afternoon wore on, I went out for a walk, determined to enjoy the beauty and quiet of the day anyways.  I ran into one of the neighbors down the street, who told me the reason we didn't have power - a branch had fallen on the lines, and the fire department had to come out to douse the sparking transformer as it blew.

Dark came early.  I made me some chicken soup on my gas cooktop, lit candles and started cyber-stalking the KCP&L outage site.  There were still some 6000 outages; over 50K customers out - I figured, since there were still only about 30 of us without power, we'd be down until they checked off enough people on the list to get to the last 2000 or so outages.

Sure enough, Monday morning came, and the house inched colder; the inside temp down around 50.  (Truth be told, I was impressed it was still that warm - outside temps had been hovering around 30 since the lines went down.)  It didn't take long for boredom to kick in.  Worse, I realized I had no way to make coffee!  I don't keep many ground beans on hand, and I'd run out Sunday morning.  Now, I was in crisis mode.

Across the street I went, to some neighbors who are friends with a friend of mine - that makes us practically buds, right???  They were kind enough to answer the door, and were happy to supply my morning dose of caffeine.  As we were talking, I worked up the nerve to ask them if I could camp in their dining room for the day - I figured I could both keep an eye out for the power trucks and work from there.  They were kind enough to say yes, and so I was warm and comfy, and able to get some work done.

About mid-afternoon, the power company was down to 4000 outages, and I saw one of their trucks come down the street.  It was just a pickup truck, not one of their big ones capable of replacing blown transformers, but two guys got out and walked up the driveways where the blown transformers were!  I thought about running out and pinning them down until they gave me an estimated repair date, but restrained myself.  Mostly because they wouldn't know, and they'd just lie to me to make me go away.  (That's what I'd have done in their boots.)  Away they went, and I finished up my workday.

By this time many of my friends had their power restored, so I started calling around a bit.  I figured I'd proved I was tough by spending two nights in the cold dark house; I didn't need the extra credit points for the third.  I was able to snag a bed with a friend who lives just a couple of blocks away; most grateful, since the temp inside my place had fallen to 48 degrees.

I brought leftover soup with me, and we enjoyed dinner together in her lighted and warm kitchen.  As I went to bed, they still had about 3000 outages, down to 21,000 people without power.  Surely, I thought as I dropped off to sleep, surely, they'd have mine back on sometime the next day.

The power company beat my estimate.  They had us back up and running at 6AM Tuesday morning!  (My guesstimate had been close - the outage count was around 2500...)  Whoo hoo!!!

After enjoying some coffee, I bid my friend goodbye with a grateful heart, and went home to see what there was to see.  I called my boss, got permission to work from home one more day.  I figured I could reset clocks and timers, etc., etc., and maybe even get my laundry done while I worked.

Alas, it was not to be.  The power had come back on, but my internet was still out.  ** sigh **   Off to the office I went, to work from there.  (I waited to leave until the house had come up to temp, and the furnace had cycled a time or two.  Better safe than sorry...)

When I got home that evening, I thoroughly enjoyed the moment when I turned the thermostat up a few degrees, and the furnace promptly kicked on.  I pressed the light switch, and the entire room was flooded in warm, incandescent light.

Warmth.  Light.
A working working refrigerator, washer and dryer.
I am usually thoroughly spoiled, taking their presence for granted.
Not so this past week; I have been aware of the gift it is to have reliable power at my beck and call.
I am blessed.

Postscript:  As I was writing this last night, the power went out again.  Only this time, it was 9 degrees outside with a 15-20MPH north wind.  I was not nearly so philosophical this time.  I downright pouted as I gave up on the evening, got every blanket in the house piled on to my bed, climbed under the covers still fully dressed, and resumed cyber-stalking the outage site.  I did NOT want to be cold again; I'd had my fill of it last week.

Fortunately for my equilibrium, the power was only out for 50 minutes this time.

As the furnace kicked in, I sent grateful thoughts to the crews who had ventured out into the cold to save my plants and plumbing from almost certain doom. I shed a few layers, and climbed back into bed, newly aware (not that I thought I needed the reminder so soon) of the fragility of life.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Breathe

Beauty Is
After the intensity of the last few months, I was more than ready for a week off, and last week, I got it. It was the first full week I've had off since starting with Jack Cooper eighteen months ago, and having Kate and Lexi here for most of it was a welcome change from routine.

I got to enjoy their company and the comfort of my own bed, all in the same week. Life is good.

I slept in almost every day. I remade my acquaintance with Lexi - she's growing so fast. The two of them helped me to clean out my closet. (I can never seem to get that done on my own - I want to hang on to my favorites long after time has passed for them to be retired.)

We enjoyed a Christmas celebration with my favorite ex-brother-in-law and his family. I hosted a gathering of people who love Kate here at my house the following night. After the two of them left to go back to California (their flight left at god-thirty on Friday morning), I spent the better part of the day putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

For me to put together a puzzle requires a stretch of uncommitted time. Once I dump the puzzle on the table, nothing short of my eyes refusing to focus on the pieces gets me to stop until the picture is complete. (Even then, it's off to bed only to resume as soon as is practical in the morning.) It's a great way for me to rest my mind. I listen to music, and my thoughts wander here and there, not lighting much of anyplace because most of my focus is on the colors and shapes before me. I'm not sure - do other people use puzzles for meditation? - perhaps I'll start a trend! Or not.

Once the puzzle was complete, I managed to catch up on some household chores. I went for a couple of walks around the park; the weather was unseasonably beautiful.

I knew I'd been carrying a lot of stress around with me since coming back from Libby's in Minnesota at the first of November, but typically for me, didn't realize quite how tightly I was knotted up until I took a few days to breathe. Life goes on, with or without my consent.

While my break was too short (no, I've never had a period of time off I thought was long enough, thank you for asking), I'm grateful for the time I had.

Taking time to stop, breathe and relax is important.
Just ask me.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Operation Do-Gooder

The news of Libby's death two weeks ago left me filled with restless energy. I wasn't needed in Minnesota, I'd checked, and so I found myself with no outlet for my need to DO SOMETHING!

I'd been trying to find some resources for KC, my homeless friend. The same day Libby died, one of the first came in - that he should contact the people at reStart. The next day, I was worse than useless at work, so I took my notepaper and headed on down to the library to see if I could catch him.

He was in his usual spot in the reading room, and so I sat down and gave him the information. He told me he'd follow up, and I started to leave, then stopped. The reStart office was a mile away, uphill, and he had his bags to carry. I asked him if he would like a ride up there, he gratefully accepted.

Into the car we hopped, his bags safely stowed in the trunk. Once we got there, there was a wait to talk to one of the counselors. (Being homeless involves a lot of sign-in-and-please-waits.) I sat down with him, shortly someone came to ask what we needed. He explained his plight; she went away and came back with a list of places to call, a generic list printed off some site on the internet.

I'd been told they had a more in-depth program, some case workers available to help him navigate the system. I asked about it, and she went away again. When she came back, she said, if we could wait longer, someone would work with us to prepare some sort of at-risk form. Of course, we could wait.

As we sat waiting at the table, I took out my phone and started calling the places on the list. Place after place told me, "No, we have nothing available at the price listed on the sheet." I kept doggedly calling. Finally a different answer. "Yes, we might have something, let me transfer you." The call went through to voice mail.

That's when it hit me. How was KC ever going to find a home if he couldn't leave a call-back number? If he couldn't make the calls I was making?

We finished the intake form, and he was given another number to call. He'd be able to get into their program on a space-available basis.

To call.

I dropped him back at the library and went back to work. Not to actually accomplish anything, mind you. I got on the computer and started researching pre-paid cell plans. Much to my surprise, because I never think of them as the low-cost provider, at&t had the best deal going.

I stopped at the phone store on my way home, picked him up their cheapest phone, and added three months of service. The next day, I dropped the phone off with him. I briefly showed him how to use it, and left, feeling like perhaps I made a small difference in his life.

By the middle of the next week, he still hadn't used it to make any calls. Why not??? (I know he hadn't used it because I snooped - I'd kept the billing info so I could add more time to the phone, and I went out checked the link to see how he was doing.)

I tracked him down again, to give him a direct lesson in Modern Phones 101. Unfortunately, the phone was dead - he hadn't plugged it in since I'd given it to him. I took the phone back to my office, charged it up and downloaded all the updates. Since I was going out of town for the funeral, I left it with one of my colleagues, Greg, who managed to track him down on Christmas Eve.

Greg took him for coffee, they swapped stories. Greg showed him again how to make a call - apparently he smiled like a kid when that first call, to Greg's cell, went through. KC was set. Or not.
Back from the funeral last week, I checked; he still wasn't using it to make calls. I tracked him down once again - he was carrying the phone, charged now, but powered down, still in its original box.

**sigh** We're not giving up on him, Greg and I. Being able to use a phone may not be the only thing he needs to get him off the street, but it's a necessary part of the process. We have plans to track him down as many times as needed (he makes that easy by hanging out in the same spot in the library on most days); to spend time with him in small doses until he's comfortable with the technology.

Operation Do-Gooder continues....