You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘work’ tag.

Classroom of adult VFW students in a hotel conference room.

October 2018 I stopped working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Can you believe it’s been a year?! I applied for retirement, and my employer officially terminated me February 2019. The retirement was approved in June. Retirement paychecks began arriving in August.

Needless to say, before it all got worked out, I was nervous about how to survive while I waited (and supported Tara, still at college in Corvallis). A previous co-worker dropped my name to someone hoping to hire, and I got a job as a contract teacher! How exciting! I taught during one week in September, and will teach again during one week in November. The students are employees of Veterans of Foreign Wars, commonly called VFW. These people spend a lot of time assisting veterans applying for VA benefits, so the hiring manager told me that ideally they like to hire people who recently left VA, because those people are current on the VA climate.

And with me, they get an enthusiastic VA Cheerleader!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

They told me what my topic would be, and how much time I had, and how many students I would have, and the dates I would be teaching. They said they needed a powerpoint presentation, handouts, exercises, and test questions. Then I went to work. VFW bought my plane ticket and my hotel room, and paid me for my work. It’s a great opportunity. How much fun it is to be a contract worker – I had never even thought of this opportunity for myself before.

I was very, very nervous before I actually taught my first class. I had never been in the environment before, didn’t know the audience, didn’t know the format, didn’t know the area, etcetera, etcetera. But I am great in front of people. Though I only slept about 45 minutes the night before, by the end of my first hour teaching, I was fine, and completely in my element. I am good at this. The student reviews were good, the feedback from the hiring manager was good. I managed to address a problem with time right away and it worked great. The students were experienced employees who should already know the material, and they were engaged, open, willing to do the exercises, willing to share their experience and also to ask questions. They were encouraging and supportive and funny.

The view out my hotel window, of the pool closed for the season. Downstairs were the classrooms, as well as a restaurant. If I didn’t want to, I wouldn’t have to leave the building for 5 days.

Typical hotel conference room classroom.

Another conference room classroom. My point with these photos is only to elicit common memories from people who have been in these rooms before!! It’s so ugly and potentially so boring!!

VFW has annual training requirements. After talking with a lot of these experienced employees, I saw that many of them are eager to receive this training. In their level of experience, these classes are mostly updates (law changes, court cases recently decided, refresher training), and so it’s not new information, but a reinforcement of what they already know. I was grateful for their great attitudes and eagerness to hear what I had to say.

The students are also a lot of fun. I bumped into a guy who lived in Idaho near where I lived. We shared memories of tiny rural communities that most people have never heard of. He and a friend of his invited me to make the 3 1/2 mile walk into the city of Annapolis, one day after class. I had never seen the town and they insisted I would love it. Though it was autumn back home in Rainier, it was still summer and hot in Annapolis – yay!! We held a quick pace and it felt great to move after too much time inside the hotel.

What the what? Yes, that’s a cemetery in the median.

My companions explained to me that when the road was put in, graves were exhumed when necessary. All the graves in this center strip were left alone. But how to get there safely?!

I realized Annapolis must be a real New England town, and I began appreciating the buildings.

Don’t you love buildings created to fill awkward spaces?

Wall art always catches my eye..

Finally we reached a place where we could see the sea at the bottom of the hill. What a pretty town Annapolis is.

It was the end of the day and we had just worked up an appetite. One of my companions said that the last time she was here she had stumbled upon a place serving fresh crab cakes and she wanted to go there for dinner. Of course we did too! It was a no-nonsense crab cafe, and the crab cakes were enormous and reasonably priced ($17 for 1/2 pound of meat). While we sat there, other VFW people showed up, which was fun. After eating, we decided to continue to explore the town.

This was officially a “sandwich,” but I ordered mine without the bread. The plate is blackened from decades of use, I imagine.

We found a hat shop and tried on hats. I never wear hats and didn’t buy any.

If I did wear a hat, I might look like this!

We were only a few steps from the waterfront, so the three of us walked around in the lovely warm evening and watched the sun go down over the water of the Chesapeake Bay.

Annapolis waterfront.

Sunset in Annapolis Harbor.

All three of us are prior military, and the US Naval Academy was right next to us. We happened to have on us the ID that would get us through the gates, so off we went. It was getting pretty dark but we were awake and ready to explore some more. With little trouble and no questions, we were allowed onto the base where we began looking at statues and entering interesting buildings.

The Naval Academy Chapel, completed in 1908, is due some repairs. The famous patina green dome will be replaced with a new copper dome that will take 20 years to turn green again.

This one looked promising as we walked up to it.

And yes, it was enormous and gorgeous inside. Dahlgren Hall was once used as an armory, but tonight there were cadets learning to swing dance.

With a sort of mini-museum there at one end.

Ship accoutrements.

Inside Lejeune Hall.

We explored different statues on campus that my friends could tell me about (they were way more in touch with Naval Academy tradition than me). One of them knew a senior cadet and texted him, and he came out to greet us and we stood in the dark courtyard chatting for some time before he had to go. We also entered Lejeune Hall, which holds an olympic sized pool, a “diving well,” boxing and wrestling arenas, and of course, a classroom. From the hallways up above, we could look down onto the cadets in swim training.

Navy mascot is Bill the Goat

Cadets in uniform move quickly through the night, returning to Bancroft Hall after classes.

Wins lauded in Army-Navy contests.

Cadets hard at work in the pool in Lejeune Hall.

My new friends wanted to end the night with a pint, and I couldn’t think why not. I had a coupla’ Guinness as a nod to my trip to Ireland with Tara earlier this year. Rather than make the very long walk home after two pints, my new friends called us an Uber and I was soon winding down, thinking about how soon the alarm clock was going to ring…


Two of my former co-workers notified me that our office instant message service has declared that it has been 100 days since I logged in. That means, I have not been to work in 100 days.

With my anthropology background, I find it interesting that the 100-day mark caught their attention and that they both contacted me about it. One friend suggested I look up the significance of 100 days; the other friend suggested I write a blog post to commemorate the event as a possibly therapeutic process. I’ll do both.

The passage of 100 days is significant to people around the world, but I did not find analysis of why it is significant. My guess: the number 100 is important mathematically and mathematicians were crunching numbers prior to the Babylonians and Egyptians. Mathematicians have likely been teaching the general population about the significance of the number 100 since before recorded history. Look around and it’s not 100 days that are significant, but 100 anything. 100 degrees Celsius is water’s boiling point, 100 kilometers above sea level is the end of Earth’s atmosphere, 100 years is a century, and the number 100 is an easy-to-remember emergency phone number in multiple countries, like 911 is used in the US.

Focusing only on the significance of 100 days, I see that my friends were dialed right in. I made a list of some of the ways in which 100 days are significant:

  • Buddhists have a prayer ceremony 100 days after a death, and this also may be a long-lost Catholic tradition.
  • Schools celebrate 100 days of learning.
  • 100 days following a bone marrow and stem cell transplant is a milestone.
  • Napoleon’s final military campaign in 1815 was called The 100 Days.
  • The 100-day moving average is a method of analyzing the health of a particular stock.
  • Chinese babies have a celebration when they are 100 days old.
  • American zoos wait 100 days when naming baby pandas.
  • Films called 100 Days include a 1991 Hindi murder mystery and a 2001 film about genocide in Rwanda.
  • There is a book called 100 Days in which a teenager has a rare disease and 100 days left to live.
  • People set goals of 100 days to bring awareness, to do art projects, to lose weight, to make money.
  • The first 100 days of an American Presidency is considered a landmark.

The question I ask myself today is “How are my first 100 days away from work significant to me?” Honestly, until my friends pointed it out, I wasn’t even paying attention to the timeline. So in that sense, not significant at all.

I miss my job. I love the job. I miss figuring out the puzzles every day. I miss both having a tight enough knowledge of the law that I can recall the regulations from memory, and I miss searching through the laws and court cases till I find exactly what I need. I love writing my decisions. I love finding new medical evidence and pointing it out to an overworked doctor, putting the pieces together for them, so all they have to do is recognize what I’m trying to do and either agree or disagree. I like volunteering for the totally confusing screwed up cases that have been ignored for two years because nobody can figure it out. I miss serving people.

I’m still mad at myself for failing at my job. I left for medical reasons that are not my fault, but I still feel like I failed. Because. I did.

Yes, people I used to work with still love me, and probably nobody blames me for forcing them to take over work I was supposed to do. The fact remains that I can’t do my job while other people can. Just because my decision was valid doesn’t make it comfortable. It sucks. It’s hard for me to tell myself “Well, I’m sick, I had to leave the job,” because that feels too much like blaming my problems on something else. Also it’s very hard for me to accept that I’m sick. I don’t want it to be true.

Either I’m sick and that prevented me from doing my job, or I’m not that sick and I simply failed. Both options bite.

I suspect that once I’ve found my new path/career/plan, I’ll be able to put my last job into the right context. In 2003 I left my job after 11 years as a weather forecaster with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to go to University for the first time. Once I embraced my role of student, I was glad I had left weather forecasting. In September, I left my job as a disability benefits decision-maker with the Department of Veteran Affairs after 11 years. Eleven years must be my auspicious number, rather than 100 days!

I have remained the same person during the past 100 days. I adore my same friends, I get excited over visits with Tara, I nerd out about all the same nerdy things, I still go for walks around my property, I can’t stand grocery shopping, I love my kitty, I whine about the cold, I drive into Portland to catch shows, I plan future travels. Without the job, I am the same woman.

So just maybe…maybe a word like “failure” is much too grand for my story, and the truth is merely that I used to work there, and now I don’t. After 100 days away from work, I’m marking that event by recognizing that who I am might inform how I do my job, but is not shaped by what that job is, or whether I even have one. I am grateful that my friends told me about this milestone and prompted me to think about it. It’s no great ceremony, but it does give me hope and confidence.

I built a new attractive front walk and steps to replace the ugly concrete slabs.

Ever since Josh has been living here, things are getting done at a breakneck pace. I almost need a moment simply to absorb the changes.

New front door with glass to let in light.

Tara called him my Work Gremlin at one point. I came home from the office one day and the deck was stained. I glanced out my window from my home office one morning, and noticed a new, handmade bird house mounted on a tree. He cleaned the roof, repaired the gutters, then installed leaf guards. He borrowed a leaf blower and cleaned up the leaves, and heaped them all on the burn pile. He rakes, and power hoses, and organizes. He consistently takes the small push mower and mows the grass where there is no room for the riding lawn mower. Sometimes I ask for things, sometimes they simply appear. Josh isn’t able to pay me rent, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s paid up.

In my quest to bring more light to my cave-like living room, I purchased a new front door with decorative glass in it. I was quoted hundreds of dollars for the store to send someone out and install it. Josh said he could do it, and within an hour from when I brought the door home, it was installed.

I complained one day about my sloping drive into the garage. I said I had been thinking that a French drain might be a good way to address the problem of all the mud and rainwater and snow that slides down the slope into my garage. He said, “That’s a good idea.” And in a couple of days, it was done. While he was at it, he also installed new weather stripping on the bottom of the garage door, and a rain barrier to the concrete floor, so it’s much better protected inside. Then he found some of the spare house paint, and painted the outside of the garage door that had been weathered down to bare wood. All the work on the garage door disrupted the open/close mechanism, because the size of the opening had changed. I found a YouTube video that addressed my brand of garage door opener, got a stool and got up on tiptoes, and reprogrammed my garage door. With this guy around, I have to do *something* to show for myself.

In front of the garage door, a drain is installed. Now, water that runs down the hill will fall into the drain, then run through an underground pipe into the yard.

Behind the French drain, you can see the red curved bricks that make a border around my front garden. The front garden has changed somewhat. I don’t have many good photos from what it was on day one. Funny how consistently I have not photographed the “before” scenes, so that even I have a hard time remembering what it used to look like. Here are a couple:

This was in February 2016. You can see there is almost nothing planted in the garden. (also no French drain!)

This photo taken in May 2018.

I’ve always hated the concrete walks in front of the porch. I asked Josh one day to take the sledgehammer and bust them up so I could haul them away. It didn’t take him long to discover that these walks are six to eight inches thick! Whoever decided to pour such massive slabs of rock? ugh what a pain. Somehow, he got them broken into three huge pieces and drug them out of there, chained to his truck. Somehow, none of my plants were destroyed. That’s the real miracle.

Since I moved in there has been a pile of bricks on the side of the house that are left over from when the previous owner built the rock fireplace inside the house. I had the idea of using those bricks somehow to make a more attractive walk. Josh showed me how to mix concrete, and soon I was up to my elbows in it and having a blast. He built some forms for me to make steps, and then left me to do everything else.

Steps are poured, and river rocks laid down before concrete is poured on the walk.

Looking from the porch toward the driveway. Isn’t this a hundred times better? I’m so proud of myself for building this beautiful walk on my very first attempt at using concrete.

Just wait till I tell you about the new pump house and new shop!

My pretty little pond.

My pretty little pond.

It’s been a great week for people working their butts off for me. I only hope that I am worthy. In return, I’ve exchanged a big, wide-open door policy: you are all always invited. Plus, there will have to be some kind of official house-warming party. Tara and I are thinking maybe the 22nd of August. We will fit you in between J & T’s wedding, and Kumoricon.

It would be great if we are done scrubbing by then, or even done with primer painting. We certainly won’t be unpacked yet, but you will forgive us. 🙂

This is what the TV room looked like a week ago, and what it still looks like now. Well, except for the mattress on the floor. We have the beds set up now.

This is what the TV room looked like a week ago, and what it still looks like now. Well, except for the mattress on the floor. We have the beds set up now.

The person I bought the house from is not as clean as I am. He lived here for four years and I am pretty sure there are things he never did in four years, like clean the refrigerator or mop the wood floors. He also smoked inside the house, so the place reeked. Tara and I opened the windows and doors on our first day of occupancy, and they have not closed since. The place still stinks, but it doesn’t reek.

Obviously, Tara and I were in full agreement that we didn’t want to unpack our clean things into the filthy house. So we still have nearly everything in boxes, and we are scrubbing.

My friends who heard the story volunteered to come scrub with us – yay!

N mows the enormous lawn past our new adorable chicken coop.

N mows the enormous lawn past our new adorable chicken coop.

Our new babies have most of their feathers now, and are getting to know their new home. We have room for only four, but four eggs a day should be enough. :)

Our new babies have most of their feathers now, and are getting to know their new home. We have room for only four, but four eggs a day should be enough. 🙂

Racecar helps from the deck, in the way that cats do.

Racecar helps from the deck, in the way that cats do.

Last Sunday co-workers and spouses showed up. We all took on a different task, turned up the stereo, and worked hard. N soon found out that I had purchased a used riding lawnmower, and hinted until I realized she wanted to mow. Off she went and didn’t come back for about two hours. She is awesome! K didn’t want to clean but noticed how there were piles of trash at the base of several of the trees on the property. He put on gloves and began hauling old tires and rusted metal and rotting wood up the hill to the shed on the side of the house. G had lots of experience with scrubbing hospitals and felt most at ease scouring a bathroom, and went to work. Really? She wanted to clean my bathroom? I am humbled. B showed up with wife T and they brought a new chicken coop and got that set up for me.

Tara cleaned up another bathroom, and I continued the extended project of scrubbing the kitchen. The refrigerator took 3 hours earlier in the week, and this day I was washing cabinets. I found a melted KitKat bar on the top shelf above the sink. It took lots of water and a knife to gouge it out of there. “How did you know it was a KitKat?” Tara asked. “Because when I can get a large enough piece of the wrapper up, I can read it.” Eeew.

The following Wednesday, Marlene Herself, from the blog Insearchofitall, and son Tech Support came over. TS had moved wrong and hurt his back, so his name switched to Moral Support for the day. He brought his good camera, and the tripod was up on the back deck in about 5 minutes while Marlene and I made a plan of action.

I suggested that Marlene sweep the cobwebs off the front of the house and porch. The kitchen still wasn’t done, and that’s what Marlene felt comfortable with. She even insisted on washing our dishes from the day before. “I was going to wash those up real quick,” I said. “No, I will do them,” was the response. Marlene is not a woman to be trifled with.

So there was yet another friend, up to her elbows in Mr. Clean, washing out cabinets, the microwave, and ending by mopping the floor on her knees (I felt so bad about that and tried not to let her do it, but again I found it is very hard to tell Marlene what to do.) I went out to the front with a broom over my head, and cleared cobwebs, and spiders, and about 40 of those little white egg sacs (shudddderrrr) that were all over the front of the house and draping down from the porch roof. Then I swept it up and cleared away broken tiles and cigarette butts.

The end of the day was time to rest and enjoy the land.

The end of the day was time to rest and enjoy the land.

The tip of this Foxglove is still blooming. There are only two left on the property and I'm glad I get to see them before their season ends.

The tip of this Foxglove is still blooming. There are only two left on the property and I’m glad I get to see them before their season ends.

A glass of wine, a flat rock in the shade, and the gurgles of a creek are the right combination for restoring my soul.

A glass of wine, a flat rock in the shade, and the gurgles of a creek are the right combination for restoring my soul.

The kitchen is clean now so I have begun unpacking dishes and utensils and food – a priority! The bathrooms are clean now so we actually feel clean when we are done using them – another priority!

There is no way we could be this far along without the generosity of my friends. How amazing it is to let people help you. I have not asked for help for most of my life, but in the last couple of years have been practicing how to let my friends help me when I need it. I thought it would be humiliating to admit that I can’t handle everything myself. But I find instead that the greater result is that I am flattered over and over when people actually seem to like helping. And the friendships grow closer.

My view into the back yard from my new office at home.

My view into the back yard from my new office at home.

Yesterday was my first full day working at home. It’s too early to report on whether this will be a fully positive, and thus permanent change in my life, but I suspect it is.

I really love the work that I do. If I described it, you may find yourself thinking it’s “BO-RING!” but…it is great work for me and my particular skill set. Plus, our customers have earned my respect and my desire to help them. However, I struggle with doing the job at my downtown office. That environment is crazy distracting and unhealthy for me.

To my delight, the positive changes yesterday were more than I had anticipated.

  1. Natural light! It was my favourite discovery of the day. No more banks of fluorescent lights blaring into my eyes from every direction all day long. For a sufferer of migraine headaches…this is huge. My desk is next to a window, and for most of the day, that was plenty of light to work by.
  2. Inspiring view. At the office, my view is of the Portland Police Bureau and jail. I work downtown among the high rises, so the view available to me consists entirely of the buildings across the street. I’m only on the 3rd floor, so I can’t even see the sky when I’m at work. Yesterday, I realized my view is of the bird feeders in the back yard. I saw how busy the birds and squirrels are here during the day, and how the yard is filled with sunshine at mid day. Every time I looked up from my work, something made me smile.
  3. Music. At work we do not play music aloud because at any moment there are a dozen people within hearing range who will probably not share our musical taste. Unfortunately, there is a co-worker next to me who is totally oblivious to peer pressure, and chooses to play his top 40 soul hits all day long every single day despite multiple requests for him to use headphones. (Come on, I *know* Stevie Wonder had more than two good songs. Is it too much to ask to play something else?) Yesterday I played my kind of music, and loud enough to sing along to. And I didn’t offend anyone.
  4. Warmth, point 1. At work, the HVAC roars all day long, blowing air through the building. Loose papers actually flutter. And I’m cold all the time. So even though the register states it is 68 degrees, it’s way too chilly for me at work. There are a few of us who wear fingerless gloves at work, and keep our jackets on all day. Yes, it is that cold. At home, I just bump up the heat if I’m chilly.
  5. Warmth, point 2. For a full hour, the sun came in the other window at an angle that allowed a sunbeam to fall across my back. It was amazingly restorative. I wanted to curl into a ball like a cat, and just soak it up.
  6. Rainbows. For multiple hours, that same sunbeam shone through crystals hanging in the window, and cast rainbows all over the walls and the computer, and my scratch paper. I love rainbows inside the house.
  7. A helper. Speaking of curling up like a cat, our kitty Racecar visited me multiple times for some lovin.’ She attempted to help a couple times, by lying down on some papers, but I had to put her back on the floor. It was thoughtful of her though, and I appreciated the gesture.
  8. Convenient facilities. So, ok. Our office building takes up an entire city block and we have one bathroom. I hate to sound whiny, but it’s a very long walk to the bathroom, which is on the opposite side of the block from the break room. Yesterday, I didn’t have to pack a lunch, or a thermos of coffee, and haul it on the bus with me, because it was right there, mere steps away. When I usually skip breakfast because I won’t have time to catch my 5:50 am bus, I had breakfast.
  9. Less sick leave. yesterday I requested 45 minutes of paid sick time to take my daughter to the dentist later this week. If I was at the office, it would have required 4 hours of time off to leave work early enough to make it out to Montavilla from downtown, pick up my kid, and get her to the dentist on time. Her appointment will be over before my shift is over, but by the time I took her back home, and drove all the way back into town, there would only be 30 minutes of the work day left. Not worth it. But now, all our doctors are just a few minutes from home.
  10. Short commute. It’s a 10 minute walk from my house to the bus stop, a 35-minute bus ride, and a 12 minute walk from the bus stop to the office. It takes an hour to get to work. Coming home can take longer, because it’s during a much busier time. Yesterday, I woke up and was there! I’m saving 2 to 2 1/2 hours of commute time each day.

There are disadvantages, but so far they are outweighed by advantages. I have to log in remotely to a virtual computer desktop hosted somewhere outside of Chicago, which makes every task take a  l o o o o n g  t i i i i i m e. When I need to ask someone a question, I can only ask whomever is active in Instant Messaging at the time. And the way I’ve used my reference tools on my computer desktop for the past 6 years is no longer going to work, because of the virtual desktop thing…so I need to come up with a new plan. I still have to go to work one day a week, and when I do I am required to take my car because the sensitive nature of the documents I carry with me prevents using TriMet. So that will cost me in vehicle maintenance, gas, and parking fees downtown.

I am fortunate enough to work for an employer (the Department of Veterans Affairs) who supports working at home for certain employees. Rumor has it that they want to eventually shift to 50% of the workforce at home. My specific job is processing disability claims, so it’s conducive to working remotely. On a typical day, I never see or speak to an actual veteran (other than my many co-workers who are veterans). Rather, I read pages and pages of medical records and scour VA laws and court cases and procedures manuals, and enter data and write up reports based on everything I read. All this can be done at home as easily as at work.

If things don’t work out for me, I can always go back into the office. To my (not) beloved cubicle sea. Where voices and telephones and radios and the HVAC and the cleaning crews’ vacuum cleaner all blend into a ceaseless din that drives me half mad some days. Where the fluorescent lights never stop their blaring. Where a dozen people a day ask, “How was your weekend?” and hope that I’ll ask them about theirs, when really all I want to do is get my work done.

Just between you and me, I’m pretty sure I’ll stay home as long as they let me.

Racecar on my desk yesterday, annoyed that I stopped scratching her head so I could take this photo with my phone.

Racecar on my desk yesterday, annoyed that I stopped scratching her head so I could take this photo with my phone.

National Conference Center complex in Lansdowne, Virginia

I’ve already mentioned that I had anticipated being sent on a work trip this summer. I am finally making time to write about my travels and the stuff I am doing to bring a bunch of VA employees up to speed on my job. The whole story boils down to: I volunteered to teach a class, and now I’m teaching it.

VA likes to have some trained instructors scattered around, available in the case a new class needs to be taught. This time we hired so many new people that there were not enough instructors in the pool. So they asked for volunteers. For example, they asked people with my job description to agree to train people newly hired to do what we do. Train people to do what you know – it makes sense. Since the training was anticipated to occur during the summer, when Miss T will be with her dad, I agreed to become an instructor.

After an extremely busy start to my summer, I was just settling down to organize my life and regroup, now that my daughter was gone to California to be with her dad for the summer. It’s nice to have a couple months where I can reset all the tables, counters, knobs, and dials, and get myself prepared for the next 9 months of teen craziness. I had not heard any kind of confirmation on my application to teach, and no locations or dates were settled. So, I looked forward to a summer of writing more on my book, cleaning my kid’s bedroom down to the floor boards (children do NOT inherit hygiene habits from their parents, btw), hiking the Gorge, find new places to camp, getting to know the new man in my life, and that kind of Me-Time. One week into Me-Time, I was notified of my upcoming training. It would be quick and direct, designed to give instructors a heads-up on this upcoming anticipated training (wherever it may be and whenever it may occur).

So, on Thursday at work, we scrambled around and got travel arrangements into place for travel to Lansdowne, Virginia on Monday. It would be an easy trip: fly out Monday, return Friday morning. I was not too concerned about the short interruption of my summer of kid-less bliss. I had enough time to clean the house a little bit, mow the lawn, pack, and pour an extra dish of food for the cat for my time away. Since I can’t get her to keep her fuzzy nose out of it anyway, I leave the toilet seat up for her in case the water bowl runs out – how clever is THAT?! I make fun of my cat for using the toilet. She’s all, “This round white thing is so cool! Sometimes it’s filled with toxic waste, sometimes drinking water!” Disgusting.

View from my room at the NCC was nice

The training facility, called the National Conference Center, in Lansdowne (near Leesburg, near Washington, D.C.) is a crazy, 1980s Era concrete bunker of sorts. Formerly the Xerox training center, it’s now used by many federal agencies for our own training. The place is described as “110 safe, secure acres in a distraction-free setting.” Which means it is nowhere near anything interesting to do or see. It is rather reminiscent of a military post with military style building. Our sleeping quarters, dayrooms, cafeteria, lounge, bar, conference rooms, and everything else were all contained inside one building. It is designed in such a way that without an elaborate identification system (room numbers include digits after a decimal point!), it was very easy to get lost inside. I wanted to wander the halls wailing, “Someone moved my cheese!”

Second floor dayroom and third floor sleeping quarters.

My room was at ground level, and called the third floor. There were about 8 floors. All the hallways were named after states, so I had to memorize the way to the cafeteria on the second floor (which dropped underground) as: follow Michigan for a long time, cafeteria is right after Delaware. Or to the training room on the third floor, where I would follow Arkansas and turn left onto Ohio and follow that. There was no cell phone reception inside the wide and deep concrete building. Luckily our rooms were on the outside, so we were able to communicate with the outside world during our personal time.

Training was good: direct, brief, effective. It was called Train-the-Trainer. I found great personal enjoyment in the trip because of two events: getting caught in a monstrous thunderstorm (remember I was a meteorologist in my former life), and seeing clouds of fireflies.  My delight in fireflies makes me like a child again. I was giggling and crawling through the grass on my hands and knees trying to catch them. I managed to catch one and had it on my hand, blinking.

Saw lots of deer and this rabbit during my morning jogs

Wednesday we “got our orders.” In other words, during training I found out when and where I would be teaching my class. I found out I would be flying to Phoenix to teach in less than a week! (I was immediately disappointed for not being granted a spot in Seattle, as I had requested and hoped for, but I gradually got over it.) Let’s put that into perspective: In less than a week I would be leaving my home for FIVE full weeks and I had not yet returned home from Virginia. I needed to find some accommodation for my cat, make some kind of lawncare related plan, deal with mail, neighbors… arrgh. The five-week time frame was longer than I had anticipated, and this particular summer Miss T decided to return from her dad’s house early so she could go on a church camping trip with a girlfriend. So I had to get all the details worked out for her arriving when I was not there, then packing, and then leaving on a new trip when I was still not there! Not to mention, working out the details for her to return from the weeklong camping trip and be alone for two days before I finally returned from Phoenix.

In February, I had received the coveted 4th of July holiday leave approved for the whole week after the 4th. I was planning to go to my Pa’s house in Idaho, but had to bail on that trip, to my great disappointment.

My Pa and I have been having some very tough times in the past year with poor communication skills resulting in some fighting. e.g. He most recently crushed my feelings by telling me the new guy was not welcome to visit his home because it’s too hard on him to meet someone who will just become my next ex-boyfriend or next ex-husband. Ouch. If he was an acquaintance, I could easily deal with it by telling him to piss off. But since he’s my dad, I am desperate for approval and reassurance that he still loves me, even though he apparently has no censor on his mouth, nor any concern for my feelings.

So I flew home on Friday, bought a new piece of luggage (since I had sent my stuff to California with T) and tossed everything I could think of into it. My man spent the whole weekend with me and helped in the house with dishes and mowing the lawn (again with the grass!), and keeping my spirits up while I felt rather discombobulated and tried to get the rest of my summer organized during the holiday weekend. In celebration of pulling it all off in a few days, I went out to Hood River to watch his hometown fireworks celebration. It was a much better choice than to brave the 10,000 Portlanders in my own town. The next morning I said goodbye, headed back into the city, took a deep breath, and got ready to be gone till August. I also ate all the leftovers I could stomach, in a last-ditch attempt to clean out the fridge. Ha!

Alright, VA: Bring on Phoenix!

{Boring side note for anyone who really needs more information about what I’m doing: In a nationwide push to take care of our “backlog” of medical claims from veterans, one aspect of VA strategy was to hire a ton of new people. Backlog is the term we use to refer to cases pending – i.e., vet has made a claim, and we are not done making a decision yet. There are many kinds of jobs in a Veterans Benefits Administration Regional Office, like the one where I work. (We do not do any healthcare whatsoever – that is a different part of VA) There are multiple teams responsible for multiple aspects of handling veterans’ disability claims. My particular job is to take a claim that has all the background work completed on it (medical records retrieved, military records retrieved, instructions and education sent to the veteran about the process, etc.), and review the entire record and make a decision on whether the evidence in the claim meets federal law to a sufficient degree that we are allowed to grant a benefit. If the criteria spelled out in the law (38 Code of Federal Regulations) have been met, I can grant the benefit. If they have not been met, I need to explain this to the veterans, and explain precisely what they need to do to get a positive decision.}

my view through the windows at work

Two things are taking the “HI” away from me: a changing schedule and Earth’s revolving around the sun.

In my cubicle sea at work (see photo at this post), my seat faces large windows looking out on the fabulous view of the tall buildings on the other side of the street. Of interest is a small triangle patio off the city jail across from us. For a few weeks after moving into the new building on 1st & Main last fall, we entertained hopes of watching inmates come out to play basketball and decide whether to jump from the third story patio or not… but no such luck. We’ve never seen a soul out there.

The huge picture windows would be completely wasted on the view of adjacent building, except that I sit close enough to the edge that I am able to look up the narrow canyon created by SW Main Street. Two blocks west is a park, which expands my view a little bit, so that I can see the edge of the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower. Across the top at what might be the 17th floor – as hotels in high buildings are wont to do – the name H I L T O N is spelled out in humongous red letters taller than me.

Only, there are buildings in the way, and I can’t see the whole word. Only the first two letters, H and I.

There are a series of de-humanizing things about working where I do. I’ll bet you can relate. But each day when I show up in the dark of morning and wait till 6:00 am before the office computer system will allow me to log in, I stare out the window and the city says back to me, “Hi!” In all the blackness outside, huge red letters greet me. I know it’s completely silly, but it makes me feel better.

The season is changing and it’s growing lighter out there. I don’t notice the Hi sign in the daylight. I’ve also decided to shift my schedule an hour later so I can work out in the mornings again. An hour later will add that much more daylight outside the windows.

I haven’t been on a regular workout schedule for a whole year and it feels terrible. I think I’ve aged five years just for getting lazy!  So, I talked to my kid and she’s cool with me getting home an hour later. In fact, she regularly laments the fact that I have to be around at all. Remember those days when having the house with no parents around was as good as vacation time?! So as soon as I get approval from my coach to change my schedule, I’ll start whipping this pudding body back into shape. Then I’ll have to find my morning greeting from somewhere else.

This was a promo video created before the construction of 1st & Main was complete. It’s pretty neat, and surprisingly accurate for animation.

Chapter 3

This is a continuation of a brief history of what led up to our current threat of home foreclosure. We don’t have one of those crazy risky loans, and we found this modest home for a reasonable price. The problem mostly boils down to the fact that we managed to lose all our savings for other reasons (notably another home that sold for a loss), followed by Mark losing his job.

Catch up to this point in the story if you like, by reading Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.

my new community, far away from the old one

Viola! I found myself in a Boston suburb in July 2004. All alone, didn’t know a soul there, and was 34 years old preparing to enter college as a sophomore transfer from California. People said, “Wow, you are so brave.” But I knew the truth is that I can go to extremes to run away from my problems. Left my career, ex-husband, and beloved Pacific Northwest behind, in order to start out on a new track and see where it would lead.

7)      As I mentioned in Chapter 2, I put my sophomore year at Brandeis on my credit card because I was scared they would kick me out if I didn’t pay. My financial aid package finally kicked in around November, but by then I had a $17,000 balance with Bank of America. (Thank you Rita Fine ’55 Memorial Scholarship people for keeping me from having a $34,000 balance!!)

Since my student loans were insufficient to cover the mortgage, the credit card payments, filling the heating oil tank (OMG!! New Englanders heat with OIL?!), buying monthly passes on the commuter rail train, etc. etc. Not to mention cross-country flights so that either I could go see my kid or she could come see me, I was constantly broke. Because of her young age, flights for her also required a ticket for another adult, or huge chaperone fees. Because of unresolved custody, my flights usually included a bonus payment to Family Law Court in California for one reason or another.

8)      I was forced to begin pulling out money from my IRA. Twenty thousand here, Fourteen thousand there.

By the end of my junior year, the infallible courts of California had decided that my daughter had to stay with her father as long as I was going to be out of state. I was crushed and angry, and forced with an awful decision: quit school and go dragging back with my tail between my legs so that my girl could have me more often? Or bear the continued separation another year, in hopes that being the first in my family to get a classy degree would be the key to pulling her out of the white trash sludge I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of.

OK, ok, yes. The whole truth also includes the fact that I did not want to go back to live in the same small town as her dad who drove me crazy, and also the fact that I would have zero chance of getting my old job back, so I would have to scrounge around for whatever job was available there.

9)      I chose to stay in Massachusetts.

For her part, my daughter seemed fine with it all. I talked with her about it in kid terms, and – in kid terms – she begged me to stay in Mass. She loved the house, loved her friends there, and seemed to be healthy and happy. Happier perhaps, without her parents’ unspoken animosity charging the atmosphere. Her winter visits afforded her snow vacations for the first time in her life since she was a baby in Vermont. She felt very grown up to consider cross-country flights a natural part of life.

I took advantage of my distress, and piled on the schoolwork. I got myself into a program wherein I worked on both my Bachelor and Master degrees at the same time. I lived and breathed school, every waking moment.

10)       I never did find a renter, but Mark, my Massachusetts boyfriend, eventually moved in and began splitting the mortgage payment with me.

11)       In my last year there, and especially the Spring of 2007, I tried to sell my home but it didn’t sell. Something funky was going on in the economy. The stock market was faltering, real estate values were actually falling, and people weren’t so interested in buying. I heard that one of my neighbors had to move because her home was foreclosed upon. This news was my first exposure to foreclosure. It was disturbing to have it so close to me. I knocked thirty thousand off what I had purchased my home for, three years earlier, and still no one was interested in the asking price. It was a beautiful, new home. What was the problem?

Finally graduated in May 2007 with a BA in Cultural Anthropology summa cum laude, minor in Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence studies. I also had an MA in Cultural Anthropology, with a focus on International Mediation. (Read this awesome profile my friend Dave Nathan wrote.)

For all the sacrifice, and the coveted sheets of embossed paper that apparently heralded my achievements… I was full of fear and doubt. I had so much debt it was staggering to think about it. Approximately $80 K in student loans, $230 K on my house, $26 K on credit cards. No job.

During my last year of school, my daughter and her father had moved to Portland, Oregon in hopes of finding a community that offered more job opportunities. He needed work and knew I would soon be needing work. It was a rare moment of cooperation. Approximately 72 hours after I graduated, I was moving West.

Portland seemed large enough to contain her dad and me together. It was exciting to anticipate my new town, my new career, new friends. I also was lucky enough to have a loving partner who had decided to leave his home state of Massachusetts and try out a new life on the West Coast with me.

Yes, I’m still here…

I’ve kept a journal since I was 7 years old. Whenever there is real news in my life, that’s when I write the least.

So I’ll give a brief synopsis, as I used to do when I was a weather forecaster. 😉

We are moved into our new house. It’s the one we wanted that needs a whole bunch of TLC.

I really like my job. Monday I finally got a desk! Yay! Yay!  Still don’t have a computer yet though.  If only the federal government was run like a private business…

My brother got married to a spectacularly perfect woman who is beautiful inside and out, and who helped him create my gorgeous nephew last Spring, which made me an Aunt for the first time.

I am completely over the moon for my man, which makes this the first time I’ve ever experienced twitterpation over 3 years into a relationship. (it’s very fun to be madly in love with the person you’re already with. 😉

Things with my daughter may actually be looking up. Her dad had a sudden, inexplicable burst of maturity and suggested a compromise that does not include her leaving Portland. I am grateful to the point of tears.

There are still many obstacles in my path, but I am happy today, so I will think about the obstacles tomorrow. Just like Scarlett.

kisses, me

My sweetheart says that “when it rains it pours.”  Apparently, when one has been unemployed forever and then a job offer finally comes in…. everyone else in the Universe finally decides to give the girl a  chance and the job offers pour in.

Last week I had four requests for interviews! FOUR! In a week! And two came in last week. That’s crazy. I know it’s only because I already have a job. They are leftovers from all the applications I was dumping on this community last month.

I actually accepted two of them, and went to one interview Wednesday and one Thursday.

The interview Wednesday was for a promotion within the VA. Not a promotion based on my performance so far, of course, since I haven’t been there long enough. It’s just that I applied for this other position as well as the one I got hired for. If I can get hired on in a more advanced position, I’ll take it. I am the only one with a job at the moment, and I owe a million gazillion in mortgage, rent, student loans, and trying to eat on top of all that.

The Thursday interview is a chance to work a second job. It’s the Tryon Creek State Park inside Portland City limits. They need a part-time anthropologist to do a survey of residents’ habits and daily activities and land use practices, in order to get a sense of how they impact the watershed. I’m their girl!! Except that… I don’t know where I’ll have the time to squeeze it in. If they offer me the position, I’ll take it, and find a way to make it happen. If they don’t offer me the job, I’ll be relieved.

Work is exhausting for my head. Three straight weeks of training. Three straight weeks of not having a clue of what I’m doing. It does become stressful.

My lovely girl is in Eureka with her dad, visiting her “step-mom” and “step-sister.” I have really been missing her, because I felt like our visit last weekend was too short. I asked her dad if we can spend ALL of next weekend together, and he said it’s no problem as long as she hasn’t got other activities going on. I need to connect with her.

One of my many guises

Recently I posted…

Other people like these posts

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 588 other followers

Follow Conscious Engagement on

I already said…

Flickr Photos