Wednesday, May 20, 2015

And I Keep On Rolling Along

Today is one of those milestone moments for me: 28 years with my employer.  Oh, my employer won't remember.  I'm in local government and there are just too many of us.  In fact a moment ago, I was talking to my Dept. Head, who also hits that mark this year.  During our conversation she said to me, "How long have we been doing this job?"  I laughed and said, "Exactly 28 years today for me."  Her reply?  "Oh."

Yep, that about sums it up.

I grew up in an era where Dads (mostly) went to work for years on end until they retired with the proverbial gold watch.  I never understood giving someone a time piece when they arrived at a place in their life where they no longer HAD to be anywhere at a certain time.  As a kid, I wondered how it would feel to be appreciated by someone for showing up, doing the job (and then some) and only missing work when it was absolutely necessary.  I wondered if Employers contemplated what the workplace would be like without you. 

The answer, I discovered, was that most Employers just want you to work in a timely and economical manner.  The bottom line is easier to recall than an employee's face. 

I recently read that the average American will have five "careers" in his/her lifetime.  According to that, I have one more coming.  Oh, I use to worry about changing jobs...even though I never left a job without another one waiting.  I went from a Tele-Communications Operator for the state police, to a Paralegal for a free legal services outfit, to Director of Elections, then my current job as Director of a Sr. Citizens Center.  I soon realized that after five years of learning a job, getting good at it, then trying to improve it, I got...bored.  Okay, so I only lasted 2 years as a Paralegal but that's because the Lawyer did some morally questionable things I wanted no part of, so I left.  

My work goal was simple: make a difference in life.  Yet in the back of my mind, every time I made a change, I questioned if I was doing the right thing for the right reason.  Was I striding towards improvement or running away from something I disliked?  In the back of my mind was always the example set by my parent's generation: you worked to provide for your family.  No one said you had to be in love with your job.  

I'm pretty sure a couple of times Dad wasn't even "in like" with his job.  For most of my life, Dad was in the furniture business, just like his father.  My Dad's first experience with furniture was helping deliver it.  I was never sure how you could find selling furniture to people fascinating, but it paid the bills.  And paying the bills was the most important thing.  Okay, it was cool to learn that my quiet Granddaddy had come up with the company slogan, "Feather your nest, with a little down."  The man who owned the business built a country home, complete with fishing pond, which he named "The Nest".  And in the hall was a framed poster of Granddaddy's slogan.  I was always weirdly proud when passing by it.  Today I understand why.

Being employed is a road littered with hills and valleys, broken up by the occasional high points. Watching Dad deal with his "career" taught me about dedication, dependability, perseverance and respect.  I grew up in a changing South,  one of the first kids to go to an integrated school.  While it was fairly easy for the kids, it was a new concept for our parents and grandparents.  Having been brought up on the Golden Rule, it was a natural concept Dad carried to work.  As a kid I remember watching other adults walk around the black delivery men as if they had the plague.  I thought it odd that it was okay for these men to carry furniture into their long as they left quickly.  But Dad treated everyone he worked with equally.  I still remember Mose, the largest of those men, with his jolly laugh and kind smile.  He once told me how much he respected Dad...because Dad respected him.  

One of my siblings once commented that Dad's job was boring simply because he stuck to it.  She didn't see the need to rise up through the ranks in a single occupation.  To go from Sales, to Store Manager, to District Credit Manager and then Corporate Credit Manager wasn't something to be proud of in her eyes.  It was boring.  Period.  

And yet, in spite of his company being bought out numerous times, which resulted in a pay cut and loss of his retirement fund after one buy out, Dad still went to work.  He still did his job, to the best of his ability and beyond because work meant one thing to him: providing for the family.  And he did it well. Sadly, Dad died of cancer before he could retire.  At least he was spared the stupid watch.

But even in death, Dad's job and his sense of humor prevailed.  Dad's last employer was located next door to the funeral home.  Dad had lamented how much people spent on caskets, which had, what he termed, "limited use".  I laughed that it was funny a furniture guy was demanding a plain pine box for the hereafter.  But he made me promise...and he gave me a joke.  Which is how, when I felt slightly overwhelmed surveying the sea of caskets, Dad provided me a way to handle it.  As my family wandered around discussing the various choices, I stood in a corner shaking my head.  The man at the funeral home, who'd known Dad for years, came over, probably thinking I was so overcome with grief that I couldn't focus.

I indicated we needed to step into the hall.  He followed and asked how he could help.  Trying to keep a straight face I repeated Dad's request.  "Mr. Otis, Dad asked me to bury him in a plain, pine box.  And he said to tell you that if I couldn't find one, you should send one of the guys next door (to the furniture store) to get you a box that the refrigerators come in."

I don't know if you're suppose to feel glee watching a guy at the funeral home try not to laugh out loud, but it felt right.  With a knowing smile, Mr. Otis ushered me into the next room.  There were a selection of "plain pine boxes" which looked remarkably like the high dollar ones we'd just left.  Dad got his wish...and I didn't have to go get the refrigerator box.

Perhaps in the eyes of my sibling, I'm boring too, for staying with the same employer.  But you know, "boringly normal" is what keeps this country running.  The people who show up, do that tasks and keep the world moving along without seeking a spotlight.  If everyone walked away when they were bored with work, nothing would ever get done...or they could find work as a politician.

Dad and I share the same work ethic: you're hired to do a job, you do it and you're compensated for it.  Not well, granted.  But I chose to work in public service because I want to make a difference.  Some days I do, some days...not so much.  Yet on the days it goes well, I feel like those adults I admired growing up:  I'm contributing to the greater good.  Working together makes life safer and easier.

And on those days when it's not so fun, I'm grateful I have something else of Dad's:  his sense of humor.  How else would I have made it in one spot for 28 years?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Spring Cleaning

Just wanted a more refreshing, less busy look.  Hopefully your eyes will like the change as well.  It's subtle...but green like the great outdoors.

See you down the road.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Happy Weekend!

Okay, so that may be a little difficult this weekend, but we're gonna try.  

I'm still trying to kick the end of that head cold to the curb (cause it tried to take up residence in my lungs) while Hubby skipped the cold and went straight to an upper respiratory infection.  We're both on antibiotics and while my sense of humor is improving, his is currently on a downhill slide.  But he recoups faster than me anyway.  Then there's an archery tournament this weekend, which means lots of people in and out our yard...remember, Hubby's shop is on the back portion of our 5 acres.  The range is across the road, so we're talking 80-100 people a day...because this is a state tournament.

In the middle of all this we had a loan closing so Hubby can add on to his shop (yea, that's good!) yet the two of us ended up having to complete the dreaded IRS 990 tax form for our non-profit. (Yuck!)   In spite of my being prepared (everything was ready to go January 31st) which I hand delivered to the responsible Board Member (in mid March) and Hubby's attempt to "motivate" said individual, it still fell back on us.  You know your day is going downhill when the CPA you thought was handling the paperwork, due May 15th, calls May 12th to see if you can come by and "help".  But he can't explain why on the phone! (And he sounded 100 years old...found out later he was 25 years younger than that..and retired!).  Sigh.  Have I mentioned how much I hate math?  I mean really hate math?

But we prevailed. (However, there's something very wrong when a 4 page form comes with 48 pages of instructions!) So I'm adopting the attitude expressed below and wandering into the weekend in hopes of better times...and less coughing.  The dog is starting to look at us funny.

Y'all have a great weekend!


Thursday, May 7, 2015

To Russian, With Love

          I ask “why?”, not to be nosy but because I love to learn.  My DNA is hardwired to seek “the rest of the story”.
          For the most part, my curiosity’s been a good thing, fed by Mom’s urging to “go look it up.”  Today’s kid would either search Google or simply wonder why their parent didn’t give them the answer.  I LIKED consulting that old encyclopedia of my youth, which often led to other books.  Or unexpected moments of hilarity.   Like the time I used it while babysitting my 5 yr. old brother.  There was a photo section on dogs, some of which made him laugh hysterically.  I can still see him rushing toward Mom, trying to balance that book as he yelled proudly, “Look Mom!  A Chinese Skinless!” He was pointing to a photo of a Mexican Hairless.  
I never once thought Mom didn’t know the answer to my questions.  I’d soon realize she was honing my skills for the day I flew the coop.
“Go look it up” also instilled in me there are two sides to every story…although one pundit claims they're 3 sides: Yours, Mine and the Truth somewhere in the middle.   I don’t like 30 second sound bites which theoretically state the truth.   I want to hear what the other guy has to say too.
Only once did my “need to know” mentality bite back.  It wasn’t that the individual felt the need to correct me or just plain shut me up.  It was who wanted to muzzle me: a teacher.
In America, every generation has grown up with an “enemy”.  Just check war movies by generation and it doesn’t take much to figure it out.  Either it’s individuals led by the likes of Hitler, Ho Chi Minh, Castro, Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein or specific countries.  Sometimes the reason for being designated a “villain” is clear: say Hitler and the Holocaust.  But occasionally, an entire nation gets painted with the brush of evil thanks to one nutcase. 
I never expected that painter would be my teacher.  Or that I’d be singled out as a twelve year old traitor to America.  All because I asked “why?”
I don’t remember the teacher’s name, just the public tongue lashing after, of all things, an emergency drill.  Unlike Fire Drills, where you marched, single file, out the building to prove you could keep quiet and remain in a straight line while the building burned, our other emergency drill was…well, silly.  It was mostly for Tornadoes, but was also to include bombings by “our enemy, the Communists”.  There were two versions of this drill.  The first was sitting under our desk with a book held over our head.  The second involved getting on our knees, head against the wall, with a book on our head…which made us look like a row of weird, midget coffee tables.  There was always a boy in class brave enough to wonder out loud how a stupid book would help if a bomb dropped on us. 
Returning to our seats we were about to start the lesson when a kid asked who the enemy was.
“Russia,” the teacher replied, eyes rolling in exasperation.
Another kid wanted to know why them.  No, it wasn’t me.  I was painfully shy.  The smallest kid in every class, I tried to blend into the background, not be singled out. 
Sensing a plot to derail his lesson, the teacher spat out that Russians were evil; they hated us and would drop a bomb on us in a heartbeat.  They were not to be trusted and their goal in life was to kill us.
I was alarmed.  But not by the teacher’s claim we’d be murdered in our sleep by Nikita Khrushchev’s evil henchmen.  To me, a guy named Nikita didn’t sound scary…it sounded like his mama gave him a girl’s name. What alarmed me was that the teacher’s answer just didn’t make sense.
Another kid wanted specifics.  How would they get here to murder us?  What would they use to kill us?  Did they have to be mad at us first?
The teacher insisted we were hated simply for being American.  All. Of. Us.   For no reason.
As a kid brought up on the Golden Rule, that reasoning made no sense.  Suddenly I heard my tiny voice whisper, “But why?  They don’t know me.  I haven’t done anything to them.  How can they hate me?  I can’t believe some little Russian kid wants to die any more than I do.”
If looks could kill, this story would never have been written.
My innocence was the proverbial straw and I caught teacher’s wrath.  I can still see him seething as he told me, “You are stupid if you believe the Russians won’t hurt you.  Their children want to kill you too.”
Turning a flaming shade of red (how ironic), I shut up.  I don’t remember if I told my parents or if I was too embarrassed at having been singled out.  The lesson I took home that day was this: if you aren’t willing to try and understand the other guy, then no wonder he wants to drop a bomb on your head.   I understood Khrushchev wasn’t a nice man.  But I had a hard time believing every little Russian child wanted me dead.
And so I grew up, still asking “why?”…though not generally in a group setting. I’ve never outgrown the need to understand why people behave the way they do.  Now, just because I listen to both sides does not mean I agree with everything said.   It’s simply my way of viewing the whole picture.  Just because Hitler was a failed, tortured artist didn’t give him the right to torture others.  And while I occasionally wonder about Putin’s motives, I don’t believe the majority of Russian kids want to be KGB when they grow up.  I think they simply want to grow up.
Today, I received affirmation that little girl me was right.  Russian kids did not grow up with the goal of sending me to the great beyond ahead of schedule as I slept.  Some of them grew up to appreciate the concept of true freedom.
Nikolay was one of the soldiers our Foundation recently helped.  His last name sounded Russian too, but I didn’t ask.  The photo he sent of himself proudly holding his bow looked like photos of Russian youth I’ve seen in the past.   Stoic, yet proud.  Today I discovered his hometown is Moscow.  And yet he chose to serve in the U.S. military.  According to his Facebook page, “I’m just a regular guy, whose job is to jump out of planes and murder enemies of the United States of America in close combat.”
So Nikolay didn’t grow up to be my enemy…he’s got my back.  And when he was injured taking care of me, the Foundation and I were able to return the favor.  Take that Khrushchev and Teacher Man.  It’s comforting to know Nikolay and I grew up with the common belief that life is all about choice.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

I'm Here...Kinda

Last week was our annual Sr. Fitness Games...the senior citizen version of the Olympics.  I'm still working on the video presentation for Monday night's banquet.  And even though there are the "tamer" games of Checkers and Card Playing, there's also Shuffleboard, Track (walking), Horseshoes, Basketball Free Throws and the like.  Just a couple of examples below...yes we have male competitors but they're outnumbered 10 to 1.  

I swear it was tiring just keeping up with the camera!

 Sadly the colorful red and blue horseshoes got replaced by ugly metal.
Funny, the Boss thinks we should use "plastic" ones next year 
because she finds them too heavy.  
She's younger than me.
I'm guessing the seniors might throw the plastic ones back at her.

You gotta admire her form.  :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Listening to My Inner Voice

Whenever the question, “Why?” nags at me, I still follow childhood protocol and “go look it up”.  Lately I’ve read volumes on TBI and PTSD.  Hey, there’s a fine line between “well meaning” and “well educated”.   I see our wounded soldiers not as cold statistics, but as human beings finding their way toward happier.  My research has had an unexpected side effect: I can relate.  
Soldiers deployed in a war zone are on high alert 24/7 for extended periods of time while searching for possible threats. While being shot at or worse.  Trying to protect their buddy.  Looking everywhere.  All. The. Time.   They get home, but some keep looking.  Civilians start to look at you funny when you admit to “seeing” more than everyone else.   The medical term for that behavior when it won’t shut down is hypervigilance.  The problem isn’t just a soldier’s inability to reset to the “Off” position…it’s how friends and family handle it.
Ironically, we expect soldiers to be trained professionals, yet we want them to leave vigilance on the battlefield.  But it’s an occupational requirement, a learned behavior ingrained so deeply it becomes second nature, like breathing.  It’s the ultimate survival skill and makes perfect sense to me.   Unfortunately not everyone sees it that way. I don’t know if the world is too busy being self-involved or just quit caring.  Over and over I’ve witnessed an attitude of, “Hey, it doesn’t effect my world, so you people need to just ‘get over it’”.   Attention world: that phrase is like a match to gasoline.  Plus, it’s demeaning.   Does brushing off a soldier’s observations as “nuts” make people feel their world is safer? Do they truly believe soldiers leave their souls at the door when they pick up a weapon?   If the cool, calm, trained observations made by soldiers are considered nuts, then they have someone else in their ranks.
          Some of you know I was once a Dispatcher for the State Police.  The most difficult thing for me to embrace was the law enforcement mentality I dubbed, “Either/Or”.  Issues were either black or white, right or wrong, good or bad.  There was no gray area, because that’s where hesitancy and danger lived.  Such a clear cut definition is meant to aid in making quick decisions under fire.  Lately, we’ve read how that has backfired when common sense was left out of the equation.  But for the most part, there’s a good reason for it.  From day one it was made perfectly clear where we fell in the chain of command and how we were part of the team.  I can still hear the Captain explaining the job I had just accepted.  “You are the lifeline.  With the single push of a button, you have the power to save an officer...or get him killed.”  Until I began working with our soldiers, I didn’t realize how deeply ingrained my training was.
 I left law enforcement, but it never left me.
If you’ve trained hard for an intense job, it goes deeper than you realize. 30 years later I can still tell you the radio call signs for our station.  I don’t just notice things, I make mental notes.  When something looks out of place or brakes squeal towards a crashing conclusion,  my initial reaction is to check my watch.  As a Dispatcher, I lived by the clock.  I had to note times for giving out a call, to which officer, when he arrived, what he asked for, give the times back to him for his report and note when he was done.  Multiplied by 10-25 officers spread over four counties.  Usually working by myself.  Being observant and keeping detailed records became part of who I am.
 My officers taught me two rules: #1 Listen to your inner voice.  It senses when something is wrong, even if you can’t see it. It protects you.  If it’s screaming, pay attention!  #2: Say something with authority and people will believe you.
Rule #2 came in handy the night I unlocked the door for one of my officers only to discover a bloodied drunk, who’d been in a fist fight in our parking lot.  He towered over me, yet when I barked at him in no uncertain terms to stay right there while I called someone to assist him, he did just that.  Quietly.  Slamming the door shut and locking it, I walked away with a new skill I still use.  And yes, my “inner voice” yelled at me all the way down the hall for being dumb.  I still listen to it too.
Odd,  ingrained parts of my job still surface.  I say “Zero” when giving out a number instead of “O”.  When spelling out something over the phone, I revert to letters followed by words.  I can’t simply say, “ABC”…it comes out, “A, alpha, B, baker, C, Charlie.”  I still use “correct” instead of “right” so there’s no confusion while giving directions.  It took me forever to stop saying, “Affirmative” when I meant “Yes”…which was especially confusing to anyone working a drive through window.
To this day, I will not sit with my back to a door.  I’m not paranoid.  I just want to know who or what is coming my way.  To me, that’s pro-active.  Prepared.  Ten times better than being “reactive”, where decisions made in the heat of the moment without all the facts could get you, or someone else, killed.  
 So, does utilizing learned behavior from so many years ago make me nuts?  Or does my training, as deeply engrained as our soldiers’, make me prepared for whatever life throws my way? 
My inner voice says it’s the second one.