Tuesday, December 29, 2015

silence is golden

I haven’t had much to say lately, which is pretty typical for me.  I’m not known to be a chatterbox. 

Someone tends to talk incessantly, which at times gets annoying.  We were out on a hike with Gracie a few days ago.  It was unseasonably warm but very wet from all the rain.  For the most part, we had the entire park to ourselves which is a marvelous thing because wildlife tends to be out in the open when people aren’t around.  So there we were, walking along the trail, and I was hoping to see some deer, or turkeys, or something…or at least listen to the birds and especially the woodpeckers…I love woodpeckers.  But no, Someone yickety-yacked the whole time.  We were hiking around the lake and of course, all sound echoes off the water and hills.  Someone even remarked that it was amazing that we hadn’t seen any deer yet.  I suggested “we” were making too much noise.  He didn’t get the hint.  So I just quit answering him.  It’s OK – after 21 years of marriage (er…well…maybe it’s already 22…I forget)…he’s used to me ignoring him.  But, that didn’t work either.  He began talking to poor Gracie, and singing, and humming, and whistling.  GEEZ!  What makes a person want to listen to himself non-stop like that?

So today, I’m getting a new chair delivered for my “home office”.  I ordered it off Amazon based on customer reviews and Amazon’s suggestion…by the way, this behavior is brought to us compliments of Big Data and Web 3.0 services – we can’t hide from Intelligent Web – it will find us no matter where we are and entice us to buy things.  I don’t really have a home office…yet.  It’s more like an unused, junked-up dining room with my desk in the corner.  A goal for 2016 is to eliminate the giant table and junk from the room, have a real door installed, find a nice colorful rug for the floor, buy some more shelves, and claim my territory.  MINE!  It would be easier to take the spare bedroom upstairs, but the dining room has two windows where I can sit and stare outside…just as I do now from my office at work.  We have a bird\squirrel feeder in the tree right outside the window.  It’s perfect for me!



The girls survived their wisdom teeth surgery and are healing well from it.  They went back to the oral surgeon this morning for a follow up.  Emily’s teeth were impacted in bone and the surgery was more extensive; consequently the holes are deeper and her stitches did not come out on their own.  The doctor removed them for her today which was no picnic for Emily given her dreaded fear of anyone poking around in her mouth.  Erin’s visit was much easier – her teeth were impacted but just in her gums; he took a quick look and declared all was well.  It’s all over now other than they still have to use the nasty rinse until the holes fill in, and they aren’t supposed to eat anything crunchy for a while longer.  I texted the girls after their appointments to ask how it went.  Emily’s reply made me smile…



It seems that winter is finally coming in.  The sky is clearing and the wind is turning cold.  No complaints from me.  We’ve had some bitterly cold Decembers, but not this one.  I’ve played golf once this month and had my kayak out; for that, I’m grateful.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Hallelujah

Dear World,

My life is changing significantly in 2016.  FINALLY!   I will be retiring from the job that has been my primary income for almost 33 years.  Money will be tighter, but time…I can only imagine what it will be like to have time – unplanned, unscheduled, “free” time.  Does free time really exist for anyone?  Nothing in this world is free; can time really be free?  I don’t think so.  Just like money, surely time has an opportunity cost.



My boss said that I can’t work part time, but I can retire and come back as a contractor after at least three months off.  After three months off, I can’t imagine wanting to come back to work.  It’s hard enough coming back after a 3-day weekend.

When is my last day?  I don’t know.  I’ve scheduled vacation for the first week of the year to give me “time” to prepare online classrooms and prepare activities for the start of semester.  I’m on schedule to teach three face-to-face classes (five online) – it’s so much effort to prepare in-class entertainment (something to show students; something for them to do in class).  Technology has to be hands on to be meaningful.  The text books are wretched.  Nobody wants to read a technology text book (not even me).  Then I will begin burning vacation – a few days per week until I run out.  Then it’s adios amigos.  I will begin cleaning out my office in February.

I’m taking my plants home when I retire.  I considered leaving them, but I’m kind of possessive and selfish about them…especially my corn plant (the tall one in the photo).  When we moved into the office building where we are now, there were several corn plants that had once thrived in the lobby of the old building that were left behind.  When they began looking ratty, a janitor moved them to a closet to finish dying.  I went over and selected one of the few that wasn’t completely dead, and moved it to my office.  I’ve tended it for 15 years now, and it has grown from less than four feet to at least seven feet tall.  Moving it will be a chore.  It really needs to be repotted, but I will wait until I get it home.  It’s going to be a messy job.  I love all my plants.  They would be sad without me, and nobody will take care of them the way they should be cared for.

Corn plant (dracaena fragrans) and other plants that like the window

Erin and Emily had their 20th birthdays last week.  It’s hard to wrap my brain around the fact that 20 years has passed by since that day in the hospital when they exited me and entered the world.  It does not seem so long ago that I was changing their diapers.  On the day after their birthday, both had four wisdom teeth cut out.  Poor dears!  What a miserable thing to go through.  It has been four days now, and the swelling is finally going down a bit and they are easing up on the pain drugs.  I know they are relieved to have the surgery over (so am I). 

My girls with their men - celebrating birthdays - last supper (before wisdom teeth)

Christmas is in a few days.  We finally have a Christmas tree up, but there is more decorating to do.  Amazon is supposed to deliver gifts by Christmas Eve (hopefully), and I will perhaps make a quick shopping trip on Christmas Eve if Amazon or UPS lets me down.  Then there will be wrapping gifts and making food to take to Someone’s parents’ house for the big family Christmas dinner get-together.  All of that to do while keeping up with five classes in Week 2 of an 8-week term, but at least I get two days off for Christmas from my main job.  I love Christmas season – all the lights and parties and music – but I never have time to enjoy it.  We were invited to three parties and I missed every one of them.  Maybe next year will be different.                

Friday, December 4, 2015

performance appraisal hell

This was written yesterday morning:

Oh my F’ing….no….I won’t write it.  If anyone deserves to be struck by lightning, it’s me.  No doubt God already knows I thought it, but maybe there’s some wee chance that when I get to those Golden Gates, God will say, “Good for you.  There was one day when you kept your blasphemy in your head and didn’t spew it into the world.”  So, now I wonder if putting words in God’s mouth is bad thing too?  Probably.
  
It’s performance appraisal time.  F’ing AGAIN.  Every damn year, we go through this same bullshit.  I’m sure all the poor peon dredges of corporate America must suffer through this same torture.  I’m trying to do my appraisal this morning.  I got up for my third cup of water (obviously drinking water is my procrastination strategy this morning, besides writing a blog post).  In the break room, there stood Tim, waiting for coffee to brew (I presume…he was just standing there staring at the coffee machine).  I asked him how it was going.  He glared at me, “Writing that cock-suckin’ performance shit today.  I’d rather they just punch me in the face and kick my balls.”  I couldn’t help laugh at him.  He really is one of the more religious people in this office; to hear his language was completely inspiring.

How do we waste time in this company?  Performance appraisals.  Supervisors already had meetings in September to determine what our raises will be in 2016.  Well of course – they have to – salaries go into the budget and the budget for 2016 is set by October 1.  Duh!  So come December, employees have to pretend that we have some say into what our “merit” raises will be for 2016.  We have to write up pages about all our successes and failures through the year, and then organize them into categories and rank them, so it all comes down to a number, 1 through 5.  If you’re a 1 or 2, you’re eligible for promotion.  If you are a 3, you do your job.  If you are a 4 or 5, you suck.
   
Understand, all of us are located here because when our company was acquired, we accepted positions with the new company on condition that we did not have to move to corporate mecca (headquarters), which is about 5 hours north of here.  Those of us who were retained (because we were critical to the acquisition for one reason or another) got to remain in the same building of our previous employer.  Lovely, but there was a catch – a penalty for not embracing mecca and all it has to offer.  Nobody new will ever be hired to work here, and nobody will ever be promoted.  It’s been about 15 years now.  We’re all getting older and our numbers are declining as people retire.  At every retirement celebration, we speculate who will be left to turn the lights off.


 
Why didn’t we move?  There’s a HUGE culture difference – H U G E!!  Kentucky is like a third-world country to people in that part of the country.  In truth, I may have at least considered moving but it would have caused lots of problems.  I was divorced and Sarah’s dad lived here – that would have been a huge problem for visitation.  I had an excellent babysitter here, and I was helping to take care of my grandparents who lived not too far from here.  Also, Someone would have never agreed to move away from his family who are all here, unless I was transferring to Myrtle Beach.
   
The point is, we already know we have to be a 3 because we can’t be promoted.  A few of the younger people always try to get by with a 2, but then they are told to revise.  The thing is, the number relates directly to the percentage of pay increase.  What that means is, not only can we never be promoted, we can never get the pay increase our accomplishments warrant.  The way a boss explained it to me was that they will not be put into a position to have to justify any of us being eligible for promotion and not getting one.


 
I’ve learned to be very careful so that I don’t have to write the stupid thing over.  I always rate myself a 3, but several times I’ve had to rewrite sections because my quantified accomplishments and client reviews were too favorable for the final rating of 3.  The last time that happened, after the second rewrite (and before the third), I told my supervisor, “Why don’t you just write this yourself or tell me exactly what you want to see on it?  Obviously the facts don’t matter and I can’t read your mind!”  That didn’t go over well.
 
The moral of this long, boring story is, suck it up and get it done.  Begin with the end in mind.  Assume my clients are going to rate me high (they always do), and whatever I write, focus on the failures rather than the successes.  The good news is that this may be the last time I ever have to write one.  Part-time employees don’t do them at all (and neither do retirees).
 
Tomorrow at 2:30, I’m going to pull the trigger after our usual project review meeting.  After we’re done, he always says, “Is there anything else?”  I always say, “Nope.  I’m good,” but tomorrow will go differently.  I’m smiling just thinking about it…and now I hear Tim bitching to the guy next door about “this fucking thing”…which reminds me I’d better get  back to work on mine.


     
UPDATE!!!
News from today.



My supevisor and I had the meeting today at 3:45.  He rescheduled twice and I thought for sure he’d wind up cancelling completely, but be didn’t.  After we discussed business, before he could hang up, I dropped the bomb.  It’s part-time beginning January or I leave in early January (probably just before spring term starts).  He will give me an answer by next Friday, he promised.  I can almost smell light at the end of this long tunnel.

I finished the F’ing performance appraisal today, a little more than 5 hours ahead of the 11:59 PM deadline.  Thank the Lord!  It’s over. 


In other exciting news, University #2 invited me to apply for a full-time job opening.  It’s an exciting prospect, but I’m not sure I want the job.  I need to learn more about it, but basically it’s not a teaching job, but more of an administrative job – supervising other faculty, resolving disputes with students, scheduling students and faculty into classes, writing reports.  Hmmmm…sounds a bit like work.  

    

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Thankful

Today is Day 2 after a 4-day holiday weekend.  Thanksgiving has become completely bastardized by modern American society, unfortunately.  What started out as a humble feast among settlers and Indians to celebrate a bountiful harvest of enough food to last them through the winter has turned into a free-for-all of gluttony and consumerism.  To be honest, I really don’t know what the first Thanksgiving was really like (I wasn’t there).  My perspective is based on various artists’ renditions that show Pilgrims and Indians sitting together outside at a large table…except the women aren’t sitting – they are cooking and serving, and no doubt they did all the clean up afterwards…just like modern times.

I can't identify the artist who painted this one :(

Anyway, I’m thankful today.
 
#1:  Thankful that yesterday and today were completely rainy, dismal, and gloomy days.  Mondays suck.  Mondays after a 4-day holiday suck even more.  Tuesday after a 4-day holiday feels the same as Monday.  The dreariness coordinates well with my mood.
     
#2:  Thankful that my brand new crockpot was delivered today.  My old one cracked and began leaking after at least 25 years of faithful service.  I thought it best to donate it to the landfill and get a new one before something catches fire.  The new one is bigger – 7 quarts – and is digital (although it’s not wifi-enabled).  That feature was overkill and too pricey, in my opinion.

#3:  Thankful and grateful to whoever nominated me for a teaching excellence award.  Somebody nominated me.  Now I must reply by the end of the week whether or not I accept the nomination, but it’s not so simple just to reply “Hell yes, I accept!”  I must submit evidence that demonstrates my teaching prowess.  Dear God, I barely know what I’m doing and they want evidence from me to prove my brilliance.  To make matters worse, I have to submit it in only a few weeks.  Somehow I doubt my score on RateMyProfessor.com is going to cut it.
 
#4:  Thankful that I got to see all my children over the holiday.  Erin and Emily came home, and Erin and I drove over and visited Sarah at her house.

#5:  Thankful that Sarah and Thomas finally launched their new CD to the world.  It's been a long time coming, and there's nothing I like more than popping in a CD and listening to my sweet daughter sing and make music whenever I miss her.



The time is drawing near for me to talk to my boss about working part time or retiring.  I was going to wait until the middle of the month, but I’ve decided to pop the question this Friday.  We (boss and me) have a meeting scheduled and unless it gets postponed, there will only be the two of us on the call.  He does not have authority to make the decision; it will fall on his boss who doesn’t know me or know anything about what I do.  For that matter, my boss doesn’t know much about what I do.  It’s OK.  If he says no (and I predict he will say no), I will retire in early January.  I’m scheduled to teach 8 classes in January (although one of these will most likely be cancelled for low enrollment).  It’s too much work to do with my real job.  I can be Wonder Woman sometimes, but not for that long.

meeting of the minds?
                   

Thursday, November 12, 2015

thrashing

Sometimes I fancy that I’ve become a cyborg, as if having my hands on and my face into such close proximity with electronics over decades has caused my entire nervous system to rewire itself to emulate the devices that have sucked away more than half my life.

https://www.google.com/search?q=image+cyborg&espv=2&biw=1324&bih=623&site=webhp


Thinking back to the old days when I sat in a cold server closet with my back just two feet from two large HP minicomputers, I did my work on the system consoles which were little (by today’s standards) dim and dumb terminals.  The disks in these old machines clattered and chattered, and their fans roared.  Each box was about the size of a very large refrigerator.  I could monitor CPU activity and various statuses on each computer’s console using a utility that I can’t remember now.  The computers talked to each other constantly, using what was called Class I/O  – at least, they were supposed to talk constantly even when there was nothing to talk about.  In those cases, it was more like “Are you alive?  Yes, are you alive?  Heck yeah, how about you?”  Back and forth, they checked to make sure their companion was still breathing.   When people reported system trouble, typically it was because one computer was waiting for a reply and the other was thrashing (like my brain has been lately).  In the first minutes, trouble wasn’t obvious to me.  But then I could hear the familiar sound the disk made under these circumstances: clackity-clackity-clackity.  It was fruitless – the disk head searching feverishly for an invalid page address while the other sat idle, waiting for a reply – “I know you’re alive, what’s going on over there?  I’ll just hang out here until you figure things out.”  One is searching for something that will never be found while the other waits for a reply that will never be issued.  Reboot both.  Rebirth the process.  It was always the quickest solution. 

No resolution.  No resolution but we must go on.  Well, at least we should go on for a variety of reasons.  Reboot.  Why?  It’s unproductive and tiresome.  How?  Take my kayak out and leave the world for a while.

I took my kayak out Sunday afternoon.  I paddled up the Little Sandy on a windy day, but oh my, the sky was bluest blue.  The clackity in my head dimmed and gave way to sounds of wind in the trees, woodpeckers, ducks, crows, and squirrels scolding me from the tree tops.  I came upon three very large flocks of turkeys near the river bank.  Two great blue heron traveled with me, flying upriver until I caught up with them.  No doubt they were annoyed with me for invading their space.  They expected me to turn around.  Finally, I did and never saw them again. 




Hopefully, maybe…tomorrow I will have my answer.  The Federal Reserve Board will announce the new discount rate; they are supposed to by middle of the month.  My future hinges on two things: the rate change (or no change) and whether or not I can stay on working casual or part-time.  I’m not altogether sure I want to stay on in any capacity.  If I do, it will be short term…no more than a year, no more than 20 hours a week.  It sounds pretty good...like rebirth, maybe.   

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

not for the faint-hearted

So, last week entailed a project-team meeting in Louisiana.  The shore is lined with chemical plants, refineries, giant warehouses, and power-generating complexes.  It’s really very ugly with all those atrocities to the eyes, but also they are marvels of modern technology.  The greatest marvel is that we don’t blow ourselves up with all that shit running 24X7.  Intermixed with all that technologiae are swamps and fields of sugar cane and rice.  Yes indeed, let’s mix our food with toxic chemicals and oil.  Is it any wonder our chromosomes and genes are getting all mutated and confused about what’s supposed to be turned on and off?

The travel was surprisingly on-time, coming and going!  It was amazing because that hasn’t happened in a very long time…to actually have a flight leave or arrive within 60 minutes of what was scheduled.  Coming back was no tiptoe through the tulips though.  In fact, it was one of scariest flights I’ve ever been on.
 
It was a newer plane, so my expectations were high.  The plane was very small; 12 rows of 4 seats, the 13th row had 1 seat.  That’s 49 passengers, and it was full.  To make matters worse, I’m a bit of a claustrophobe and I had a window seat in the 12th row.  The aisle was so tight on this plane model that most people had to turn sideways to walk down it.  Anyway, all was well until we were about 20 minutes into the air.  I started to smell plastic burning.  The pilot announced something but nobody could hear because those little planes are super noisy.  The guy sitting next to me reeked of bourbon; he asked me if I smelled something burning.  He stated that an engine was on fire and we would be turning around soon.  I speculated something was on fire in the cargo area.  He pulled two little bottles of Makers Mark out of his jacket and offered me one.  I declined and he sucked both of them down right out of the tiny bottles, one right after the other, and tucked the empties into the seat pocket where the safety brochure stays.  Within minutes, the cabin got very smoky.  At least it was white smoke; black smoke would have sent me into a bigger panic.  The steward stood up and picked up the phone.  People turned on their air vents which helped.  The plane took a hard right and we descended a bit, then the smoke cleared out.  Whatever it was that caused it, I don’t know.  Somebody said they thought a laptop fried.  It sure didn’t help having drunk guy saying he hoped we could land in time, and he hoped we didn’t crash (over and over).  His daughter was getting married next day and he had a rehearsal dinner to attend.  He started his celebration early, obviously.  I wondered if he was going to drive himself home…drunk driver.  I learned yesterday that in the U.S., somebody dies in a traffic accident caused by a drunk driver every 53 seconds.  I wonder how many die from somebody on a cell phone?

This morning, I had a dentist appointment.  I am one of those people who HATES going to the dentist.  Hate it, hate it, HATE IT (in all caps)!  I don’t even like getting a haircut, so put yourself in my shoes in the dentist chair.  It gives me squeemies just thinking about it.  So the festivity scheduled for today was to replace an old filling…one of the back molars that was probably filled when I was 12 years old or so.  At my last cleaning, the dentist observed a bit of gray discoloration around the filling and a hairline crack.  He actually found two fillings that need replaced, but I didn’t want them done on the same day (which means I get to go back for a repeat performance next week). 

Anyway, my dentist is awesomely talented in comparison to other dentists I’ve been to.  He was done with the needle/numbing business in no time – that’s always the worst part for me.  That big-ass needle scares the hell out of me, but it didn’t hurt at all.  NOT AT ALL!!  Non-event!  For 15 minutes, he sat and chatted about his adventures in Germany while he was in the Army so the novocaine could took affect.  Then he and his assistant started to work with drills, and the water blaster and the sucky thingie, and all sorts of metal tools…it was a flurry of hands in front of my face.  All of a sudden, something flew out of my mouth and the dentist exclaimed “Whoa!!”.  Not something I (or anyone) wants to the hear when it’s your mouth being worked on.  He said, “Looks like a giant hole in your tooth; you’ve just lost half of it.”  Shit!  Definitely not what I wanted to hear.  He said, “Don’t worry, we’ll fix it.”  He put two screws into my tooth to hold the filling.  Start to finish, I was out of the chair in under 35 minutes.  Whew!  Pain free dentistry, for real!
I have to go back next week for the other tooth.  It has a leaky old filling, but no crack.  Hopefully it will be no worse than today.




Erin is coming home for the weekend.  We have pumpkins to carve for Halloween.  It should be fun.  I hope our weather is good.  I’d love to get my kayak out before all the leaves drop.  The maples have shed most of their leaves, but the oaks and hickories are still hanging on to their leaves.  The red and orange from the maples is mostly gone, so now the hills look bronze, rust, and gold.  Still lovely!  


Monday, October 19, 2015

Once upon a time...

The weekend was a fairy-tale.  It really doesn’t take much to make me happy – I’m lucky like that.  I slept in late two mornings in a row with Gracie, took my kayak out, went for a long hike, watched The Walking Dead, and baked a cake.  It was but a brief fairytale, however.  The ever-after didn’t happen.  Monday draped its ugly blanket of despair over my world as all good things come to an end. 
  
Dogs are wonderful.  My dog, although two of my daughters will disagree (probably because they are jealous), is the best dog on earth (for me anyway).  She prefers to stay in the house in the mornings when I go off to work.  I say good-bye to her, give her one last scratch on her head, then make my way to the car.  This is what I see every morning when I’m backing my car out of the driveway.  She always runs to the window and watches me go.

Sweet Gracie

 
For the first time, I took my kayak to Clifty Creek, a stream that feeds into Grayson Lake in Carter County, Kentucky.  Grayson is by far my favorite place to hike and kayak, but it’s about a 50-minute drive.  With nothing else scheduled for Saturday, I loaded up and made the drive.  It was a phenomenal adventure.  A fabulous day, and next to nobody out there at all, I paddled for nearly 90 minutes in the direction away from the main lake.  It was windy, so it was hard work, but such a beautiful place with all the cliffs and trees beginning to change color.  On the return trip, I came around a bend and saw a heron wading.  I froze.  He saw me and gave me a good stare down, but I stayed completely motionless – not even a blink.  Finally, he went back to business.  He was walking the shoreline looking for dinner, no doubt hoping for fish, but also inspecting the weeds along the edge perhaps hoping a frog or snake would present itself.  Step by step, very slowly and deliberately he searched.  I pulled out my phone and took a video, hoping he would catch something, but he didn’t find anything and I finally drifted out of range.

The water slaps the rocks making interesting sounds

It's neat to see how the trees grow right to the edges of the cliffs


Saturday evening, I made a large pot of spaghetti sauce and baked a cake.  I am working out of town this week, so Someone will eat spaghetti a few times and appreciate the cake.  If only it were that easy to keep Gracie happy when I’m gone.  She will not eat for days and will refuse to come inside the house.  After a few nights, Someone will bribe her with cheese and get her to come in – even so, she will sleep against the door to the outside and not take her usual place at the foot of our bed.  She is not herself when I am away.  Poor baby, but she bounces back quickly when I come back.
 
On Sunday, after a nice morning of lounging in bed with my iPad and sweet dog, I did my teacherly-duties: answering emails, posting announcements, and assigning work for all my classes.  It’s nearly time to make a video again – University #2 expects me to post at least one personalized video per session.  Some things are better left to the imagination (in my opinion), but I will comply and video myself rambling on with some sort of reminders.  Only a handful of students will watch it anyway. 

Sunday was cooler than Saturday, but still a sunny, spectacular day.  Someone and I took Gracie to Greenbo Lake State Park and hiked some of the Michael Tygart trail.  It’s a lovely trail – it follows the shoreline of the lake in some places, and then takes you back away from the lake through some flatter ground and very old abandoned log cabins.  We did not hike far enough to see the cabins, but I hope to do that someday.  It’s a lot of uphill and downhill in places, but the scenery is worth it.  Also there are many tree roots and rocks to watch out for.  It will not be a good walk when more leaves are down – we would be tripping all over ourselves and a fall could result in a long tumble down into the lake.  According to my Fitbit, we walked a little more than 3.7 miles before turning around.  We saw many deer and squirrels, but also a great heron, at least twice the size of the one I saw the day before. It was sitting on top of a pine tree that had uprooted and was laying over the water.  

Greenbo Lake as seen from Michael Tygart Trail

sapphire October sky 


I am leaving my job before long.  That makes things a little more tolerable.  Tomorrow, I head back to Louisiana for meetings.  If I had more time, I’d drive into New Orleans and visit the French Quarter again.  Alas, there is no time for anything but work on this trip.  It’s OK.  Two to three months from now…a new life for me.  The real fairy tale begins.       

Thursday, October 15, 2015

slippage

It’s another glorious fall day in my world – brilliant blue sky, unseasonably warm for October – nearly 80 degrees.  Last weekend and this entire week has been  equally as beautiful, but I hardly remember last weekend when I try to reflect on all the events.  We buried my brother Saturday.  Just as when we buried my grandfather in that same cemetery several summers ago, the sky could not have been anymore blue.  The most memorable difference was that the day we buried my grandfather, it was beastly hot (in July). Saturday was mercifully cool – around 70. 

View from my office


We expected 12 people or so in total for the memorial service.  It was to be very informal and thrown together…well, that part came true as planned.  Just a few hours before the service, I printed off a short prayer to open with and the 23rd Psalm because what else is there for funerals?  My mother wanted to sing a hymn – Be Still My Soul; Emily was going to play piano, and Sarah was going to sing and play viola with Emily for one song.  I wrote up some brief notes to remind me what to say about my brother’s life…in hopes that if I invited others to say something about him, somebody would.

As it turned out, we had a good 30-35 people who showed up.  Many of his friends stood up to speak about him.  The music was lovely.  I was hoping we could stretch it out to 20 minutes long; but I think from the time we started until we left the church, it was well over an hour.  I had no idea my brother had so many friends who cared enough to come.  Afterwards, family drove to the cemetery and buried the ashes between the graves of our grandparents.  Before we left, I planted crocus bulbs around the headstones of my grandparents, great-grandparents, and my favorite great aunt.

The oddest thing about the weekend for me, besides carrying my brother around in a heavy little wooden box, was seeing my parents together in the same room for the third time that I can remember.  Once when I was young (maybe 5 or 6 years old), their visits overlapped by a few hours.  Neither visited often, so to have an overlap was a rare (indeed, one-time) event.  Both attended my doctoral graduation, and now this – my brother’s (their first son’s) funeral.  After the cemetery, we all went out to dinner together.  It was notable to see both sitting at the same table for dinner – just as we did for my graduation.  I remembered that the last time I ever had dinner with Richard was also the last time my mother had dinner with him, and how the last time I had dinner with Mike, it was in this restaurant where we were all sitting together like one big family.     

That is how the whole weekend went.  My mind was slipping forwards and backwards in time, and as I reflect now on the weekend, it’s like I wasn’t even there.  I drove my mother back to the airport Sunday.  Her flights were horrible – 6 hours delayed coming in on Friday night, and a 6-hour delay going home.  It was a direct flight for a trip that she could have driven in six hours.  Driving home from the airport, I saw this giant deer in the back of a pickup truck.  Taxidermy is popular around here because so many people hunt, but who wants this standing in their home?  Not me.  Thank heavens we don’t stuff people to preserve them. 

poor deer

My mind is not on work lately.  Obviously not on work…I’m writing a blog post when I should be analyzing data for discrepancies, among other things.  I’m traveling back to Louisiana next week.  My thoughts were to decline the meeting notice, but I will go.  Two hops down, two hops back, but an all-day ordeal each way with the driving added to it.  Planes are never on-time these days.    


If I could have tomorrow to live as I want to, I’d take my kayak to Grayson Lake and paddle far away from anything that sounds or looks like civilization.  Perhaps if I went far enough, the world would seem right again.     

the right way?
     

Sunday, September 27, 2015

day of reckoning

The world came to a screeching halt.
 
Not for me and any readers obviously, but for my brother, who finally paid the ultimate price for his long love affair with alcohol.  Richard was found dead Thursday morning (9/24).  It appears that he’d had a seizure and asphyxiated.  So it goes.  We all knew the day was coming, and my other brother (Mike) and I marveled every time we got together that Richard was still alive.  We expected him to last no longer than a year once we moved him into his house.  In fact, he survived nearly three years. 

Mike and I use to joke that we would put his ashes into an empty vodka bottle for burial.  Now that the end has come, it’s not so funny to think about that.  The memory of seeing my brother tip the vodka bottle and chug on it like he was drinking milk from a carton is something I can never forget.  For the past year, his alcoholism became too difficult to manage.  Drinking made him sick, but not drinking made him sicker.  He withered away to a rack of bones, and this under-60 year old man walked and moved slower than my grandfather when he was 93.       

I had to make phone calls to our parents to tell them the news.  Nobody was surprised.  Now I must write an obituary for him and plan a memorial service.  Mike and I began cleaning out his house yesterday.  We learned a lot about our brother in this unhappy process.  Fortunately, it was all good things about him – things I wished I’d known before he died.

Richard never made the connection that he couldn’t keep a job or a girlfriend because of his drug and alcohol problems.  He didn’t seem to comprehend that his health was affected by drinking so much.  He refused to believe that his “friends” were taking advantage of him.  That’s how denial works.  Rehab was never an option.  At one point about a year ago, after a very close-encounter with death and a long hospital stay, he told me he was finished drinking.  We talked about AA and what changes he was willing to make to stay sober.  He assured me that he would attend AA meetings and never drink before 3PM, and only beer, no more vodka.  As I was leaving the hospital, I said good-bye to my brother in all the ways a person can say good-bye.  I never saw him that sober again.


In the words of Cat Stevens, we’re all “only dancing on this earth for a short while.”  Richard was ready to sit down.  I wish we could have changed the music and had one more dance. 

in better days
    

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I'm the man

KYLady was in the foulest of moods earlier this week.  It’s a very long story, but rest assured, KYLady’s mood is way above the tippy-tops of the highest cirrus clouds today.  In fact, she was so excited with the news she got last night that she could hardly sleep.  And even today at work, with a staff meeting going on, KYLady is only pretending to listen while she writes a blog post because she has no interest in work AT ALL just now.
   
So, the backstory is that old KYLady has been itching to retire from her primary job for a very long time.  Finally, she collected lists of her expenses and assets, and implored Someone to give her lists of his assets and expenses.  Without getting too personal, perhaps it was because Someone and KYLady had prior spouses, both decided when they got married that managing finances separately made good sense.  They’ve always had his and her bills to pay.  KYLady makes the most money (not bragging, just stating fact), so KYLady pays the most bills.

So, everyone wants to be KYLady’s financial advisor because of her age and the company she works for.  She settled on two advisors from two companies, which is a bit like having multiple clocks and not really knowing what time it is.  Financial Advisor #2 wants more information, but told me earlier this week that unless I could get Someone to take on more of our expenses, I could definitely not afford to retire until the mortgage is paid off (in like 7 more years).

That was the start of the foul mood.  Then Someone and I got into an argument about it.  Someone flatly stated, “Hell no, I’m not going to start paying YOUR bills.  That’s not fair to me.  You’ll just have to keep on working.  It’s not that bad, you just have a bad attitude.”  Yeah, I’m the one with the bad attitude.  Right…what would his attitude be in my job?  He works 30 hours a week at most and gets 15 paid holidays.  Me?  It’s like 45-60 hours a week with 10 paid holidays.  I’ve worked at least 8 years longer than him, even though I’m younger than him.  Don’t talk to me about attitude, ASSHOLE.



With that, I began making mental plans.  Such as, it’s time for “us” to downsize…I’m going to put “my” house up for sale.  You never answer your cellphone any way; I’m going to cancel you.  You know what, I can’t really afford the insurance on your new car anymore.  I’m cancelling your policy so I think you’d better start looking for a buyer.  You can have my old (2002) Camry and I’ll go back to driving the old (2004) minivan – we’ll be better off.  I vented to a certain person who gave me the best advice I’ve had in a long time.  She said, “You just tell him you’re the man and he’s the little bitch.”  Yeah, he’s the little bitch alright. 

So, then last night, we had a meeting with Financial Advisor #1.  First thing when we sat down, he asked us if we were planning a divorce.  It caught us both off guard.  Someone and I agreed we were not planning or thinking of divorce.  Advisor said, “Well good, because I combined your expenses and assets for this analysis.  I hope that’s OK.”  With our expenses and assets combined, we have plenty of resources for me to retire next January.  Like PLENTY.  Then, as if that were not good enough, he reminded me that the discount rate is expected to increase, so it might be advantageous for me to quit at the end of the year rather than working a month into 2016 as I was planning.  On the drive home, Someone seemed to be a little more open to the idea of me quitting.  Maybe he’s starting to see things my way.
      


Here’s the bottom line, I’m going to retire at the end of January, or I’m going to retire at the end of December.  Of course, I will listen to what Advisor #2 has to say when he gets the numbers together, but my brain has already locked in R-E-T-I-R-E-M-E-N-T.  It doesn’t seem real.  It’s not real yet.  The discount rate for 2016 will be announced on November 15.  With much hope, I wait.  



  

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

wash-rinse-repeat

It was a lovely, wonderful weekend for KYLady.  There’ll be no gloom and doom in this blog post…OK, it’s going to be tough but I’ll try to remain cheerful and optimistic through the end of the last paragraph.
 
I took two hours of vacation Friday afternoon so that leaving work early for a round of golf was possible.  It was a beautiful day for golf – sunny and 80 degrees, and the course was not crowded.  Someone and I teed off at 3:45 PM and finished well before dark.  I had two birdies which always makes golf fun, even when a great shot is just pure luck.  Someone could not buy a tee shot and so was a bit whiney and sullen, but I didn’t let his foul mood interfere with my glorious afternoon in the sun. 

Saturday, Someone and I went to the Simon Kenton Festival in Old Washington, KY.  That was loads of fun.  The sky was completely clear when we left home, but by the time we arrived at Old Washington, it looked like rain.  In fact, it did rain lightly for a bit, but not enough to make things miserable.  We went to listen to Sarah sing, but the festival itself was wonderful.  Some people were dressed up as Indians and settlers, and I saw a couple of men wearing old revolutionary war uniforms.  All sorts of good-smelling food (barbecue) was being cooked and sold, and there was no scarcity of fair food.  Churches set up and were selling baked goods, and lots of crafters were selling things.  I bought a hummingbird feeder that I probably won’t hang outside until spring.  I think the hummingbirds have already left Kentucky for winter, but I’ll consult my expert friend who takes photos of hummers around her feeders as a hobby.  She will know.  Old Washington is a neat place.  It’s a historic district with old cabins and buildings from as long ago as the 1700s.  Up and down the main street, carriages pulled by a horse and oxen were giving people free rides. 

Oxen are BIG!

video

On Sunday, I slept in and then took my kayak out for an adventure.   After some research, I found Raccoon Creek ramp, about 7 miles upriver from my usual put-in place on the Little Sandy River.  To be honest, I almost talked myself out of going there.  I knew it would be isolated; that part of the county has high-crime, wildcats, and bears.  But sometimes, adventure is just what a person like me needs.  The ramp was completely deserted and I quickly learned why it’s not so popular.  The ramp is very short and steep, with giant ruts on both sides.  It’s really more suited for a small carry-in boat.  In fact, I decided to park at the top, put my kayak on a little cart, and pull it down to the water’s edge.
 
So based on the map, I thought I was putting my kayak into Raccoon creek.  I paddled what I thought was downstream (it was), thinking that around every next bend I would see the river.  Then I began wondering if I was paddling up the creek rather than down.  It was so windy that I couldn’t tell anything about the current.  Finally, it became obvious I was on the river.  When I returned to the ramp and paddled upriver a little way, I found Raccoon creek which was nearly dried up and not obvious.  Too bad the waterways are not marked with signs like roads are.  Then again, absence of civilization and the unknown adds to the adventure aspect. 

Somewhere on Little Sandy between Raccoon Creek Ramp and Dragonfly Adventures

  
The Little Sandy snakes through the hills, and there are lots of little and big creeks that feed into it.  It’s mostly farmland and woods on both sides, but also there are areas with small cottages and campsites.  The property along this river is most likely not expensive; it floods terribly in the spring.  All those campers and little ratty cottages are how us average folks live the good life – home away from home.  In my dreams...

So yes, the break from University #2 has been wonderful.  Someone and I met with my financial advisor last week.  He had many more questions, so I still have no answers.  We have more information to collect for him, so it’ll be a few more weeks yet.  The preliminary report is not optimistic, but we won’t go there per my promise to stay cheerful through the end of this post.  Meanwhile, I updated my CV again and will begin applying for more teaching jobs this week.  Rust never sleeps, and neither should I.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

breakdown

Things have been desperate lately.  Well, it's not really the things as much as it’s me…I have been desperate lately.  Things are very hectic.  By nature, I’m very laid back.  It’s hard to be me in this place in time with so much stuff going on.



University #2 wrapped up Sunday night.  I had 48 hours to get last assignments graded, but wouldn’t you know it, six students crawled out of the woodwork and dumped assignments for the entire term into my queue for grading.  The university has a culture of what they call “compassionate accountability”.  I call it utter bullshit.  With no penalty for late work, why worry with deadlines?  The deadlines only apply to me.  It’s not fair to the other students, because I have less time to evaluate work of the students who submit on time.  All but a handful of students submitted a few last assignments late.  Needless to say, it was two days of sitting in front of my computer grading papers with only a few hours of sleep.  Fortunately, Monday was a holiday so I didn’t need to take vacation time to finish.



University #1 is about a month into the term.  The herd is starting to thin, especially in the Microsoft Office class.  Some students have already decided it’s too much work and have dropped the course.  Several are already struggling.  If they were to ask me, I’d tell them it’s only going to get worse.  Truly, most any technology can be tedious to master.  It’s especially difficult for people who don’t have the brain for it (and by no means am I implying that you have to be smart to learn technology).  Some students sign up because they think it’s going to be easy.  Sure, almost everyone knows how to use Word and PowerPoint, but this course requires them to learn the features most people rarely use. Once we get into Excel and Access, students drop like flies.
 
I had a roommate in college who was an accounting major.  She was valedictorian of her high school class, a straight-A student, and really very book smart (common-sense smart, not so much).  She was required to take a few computer classes for her major.  She did well with the intro to computers class, but when she got to Basic (the most elemental and user-friendly programming language back in those days), she floundered.  I helped her as best I could, but she just didn’t have the brain that’s required to deconstruct a problem and create a solution set with logical tools.  She barely passed, but she passed.  She became a CPA and no doubt has earned at least three times more money as I have over the course of our careers.  That’s OK, I’m grateful for people who like accounting.  I hate money.
         
Oh well.  Next week, I have an appointment with my financial advisor to see if I can afford to retire from my main job.  If he advises against it, *sigh*…I don’t even want to go there.  I’m setting a date of January 29, 2016.  If that will fly, I will ask my employer if I can stay on part-time until we get a big project finished (which has almost 3 more years to go).  If not, it’s pull the trigger and adios.  Meanwhile, my job hunt has come to a screeching halt.  There’s just no time to work more hours or look for another job.


So here I am blogging because I don’t want to clean house in my “free” time.  Sadly, this house needs a major cleanup.  That’s my fourth job – house slave.  I’m a slacker.  

  

Monday, August 17, 2015

Summer Soliloquy

Summer is waning.  Every day now, until the sun sets, jar flies sing their sad serenade in ode to the shrinking corn stalks and withering cucumber vines in the garden.  Summer is not over – far from it, but the girls are back to school this week and my new semester starts today.  Where did it all go?  Except for a few vacation days, it seems I completely missed out.  My life has become too busy.  For too long, it has been too busy.

As a very young girl, I remember that summer seemed endless.  Perhaps it was because calendars and clocks were of little concern unless there was something specific I was looking forward to.  Now as an adult heavily entrenched in the rat race of day-to-day survival, Father Time has complete control of my life.  Not that I offered it up to him, but maybe it was done without realization or direct intention on my part.



Maybe it was boredom that made summer seem endless, but I don’t remember boredom.  My summer was fields of corn and tobacco, green pastures dotted with black cattle and purple ironweed, and giant walnut trees with branches upon branches.  I imagined walking between rows of tall corn and fat tobacco plants to the very edge of the Earth, or climbing a grand, old tree until I could touch the clouds.  Lost in imagination for hours, the afternoons dimmed into evenings, and then into nights and new mornings.


Those were not the good old days, but more a good state of mind – a mind that had no regard for current events, paying bills, or keeping things orderly.  Pretty much, it was just living day-to-day rather than managing life for myself and family.  Perhaps that is the key to unlock the shackles that Father Time has put on me – I need to stop managing and start living.  Is that even possible? 


Friday, August 7, 2015

escape to the mountains

KYLady was grateful for a gloomy day on Thursday when she wrote this post.  It fit her mood – gloomy with no hope in sight for a day off anytime soon.  Don’t misunderstand…she is also extremely grateful to have two teaching jobs along with her real job that pays all the bills.  Financial security is a blessing.  But…(and there’s always a but, isn’t there!!)…this life of all work and no play gets tiresome.

University #1 starts in less than two weeks.  I’m now in full force trying to learn the new simulator platform my students have to use.  I have to build assignments in the platform and learn it well enough to help the ones who can’t figure out how to use it.  The university didn’t turn it on until last week, so now it’s do or die.  I have three classes to get ready, even though one will surely be cancelled.  I still have to get it ready on the outside chance that a rush of students will enroll at the last minute.  One class is overfilled (9 students over the cap), and the other is almost full.  That third class that I now hope gets cancelled is a face-to-face night class, an hour’s drive from home.  It could be fun, but the two hours of travel time will eat into my free time…which is very scarce these days. 

I just picked up a fifth class at University #2 this week.  We’re in week 3 of an 8-week session at that school.  Apparently there was an issue with the professor, and I’ve taken his place.  It’s a small class and an interesting topic, so that’s good.  I’m finding that a small class does not equate to less work at this university.  Fewer students requires much greater involvement in the discussion forums.  That too is good, because it forces me to do some research and write which is one of the primary reasons I wanted to move into academia in the first place.

As shitty as this week has been, last week was just as m-a-r-v-e-l-o-u-s.  Sarah, Erin, Emily, and I went on a real vacation.  Real Vacation means I did not even make a bed, wash a dish, sweep a floor, or any other chores (I did have to grade some papers, but that doesn’t count).  It was wonderful to spend time with my lovelies and have five days to putter around with them. 

First, we drove to Asheville, North Carolina.  We walked around the downtown area, visited the Arts District (which was not so very impressive), and toured Biltmore Estate.  Biltmore is an amazing place built by the Vanderbilt family.  It’s like a mammoth castle with gargoyles on the roof eaves and more rooms than anyone really ever could need.  I lost count of bedrooms, bathrooms, dining rooms, and billiard rooms.  The indoor swimming pool is larger than our city pool.  The house is filled with grand furniture; it’s amazing to walk through and imagine living there. 

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC

View from the back porch (Biltmore)

My favorite part of the whole place is the gardens and conservatory.  Every species of plant you can imagine was growing somewhere.  I would love to go in the spring to see the wisteria, azaleas, rhododendrons, and spring bulbs in bloom.  With so many plants, it must be nothing short of spectacular.  There are big fountains with all kinds of water lilies blooming.   We walked around and marveled at the variety of lily pads, coy fish, and flowers blooming up out of the water.  I hope to go back there someday.

One of the water gardens
Verigated lily pads - I didn't know there was such a thing!
You could spend an entire day just to see the gardens outside the conservatory
Wisteria everywhere


After Asheville, we drove to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  It’s a tourist mecca.  The girls called it “Myrtle Beach of the Mountains.”  They were absolutely correct.  Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge has all the touristy shit that Myrtle Beach has, except they have not managed the traffic as well as Myrtle Beach.  It’s bumper to bumper cars through the main business areas, and parking is very difficult.  We visited a large aquarium at Emily’s request – she got to dissect many ocean creatures last semester in her zoology class and was keenly interested in seeing some of them alive and swimming.  We also visited DollyWood, a Dolly Parton themed amusement park.  This was on both Erin and Emily’s bucket list.  It was OK…I liked it better than King’s Island (the amusement park that is closest to home).  We saw a couple of shows, the girls rode some roller coasters, and we all ate some junk food (cotton candy and Dippin’ Dots).  

Smoky Mountains - near Gatlinburg, TN

On the day we drove home, we stopped at Cumberland Falls in Kentucky.  That was on my bucket list.  It is a lovely area; the waterfall is beautiful.  Of course, I saw all that water (particularly the stream below the falls) and was thinking what a beautiful place to take my kayak.  It’s a three-hour drive to get there from home, so not something I’m likely to do in the foreseeable future.

Cumberland Falls, Kentucky
Below the falls

Kayak adventure area begins


In the evenings, we played Catan.  It was fun, although “some” of us were very competitive (perhaps overly competitive) in the quest for victory.  As far as my experiences playing the game, there was never a glimmer of hope that I might win.  In one game, at one point, I was in a position (finally) to build a city if nobody robbed me before my next turn.  Of course, that never happened.  Sarah won the game before my next turn.  *sigh*

One immature player got bored...


The weather for our vacation was summer bliss.  Sunny and hot every day…perfection.  What a blessing it was to have time with my girls, all together.  It rarely happens these days.  Soon, Sarah starts back to work at her teaching jobs, and Erin and Emily go back to school.  This next week will be a flurry of shopping and packing, and all too soon, the house will be quiet again.         

Saturday, July 18, 2015

telepathic weather control

KyLady feels a bit guilty for being happy about rain in her last post.  Even though she knows that wishing for nasty weather doesn’t cause it, she was truthfully glad that the weather sucked the whole first half of the month.  The consequence of all that rain was flooding which destroyed lives and homes in the eastern part of my fair Kentucky.  I love these hills but flash floods are treacherous.
 
The sun finally peaked out from behind a thick blanket of clouds Thursday afternoon.  By the time I got off work, there were no clouds in sight and the air was cool and calm.  Since I have no grading to do just now, I loaded up my kayak and skedaddled out to Greenbo Lake.  I wanted to go to the river, but was concerned that it might still be at flood stage – muddy, with garbage and giant limbs floating all over, and perhaps a swift current which would make paddling up river too much work.  Greenbo is the closest lake to my house - 22 minutes from our driveway to the marina.    

Greenbo was beautiful, just like silk.  The sky and trees reflected as clearly as a mirror, and I could sit on the water and not drift anywhere…the water and air were that still.  BUT...of course there’s a but…there was a church group of teens out there – like 40 or so loud-mouthed hyper kids in canoes and kayaks.  It was happy noise at least, but I wanted the silence when nobody is out there.  There were also people fishing, picnicking, hiking, biking, and boating all over the place.  It was the wrong place to go to get away from civilization and humanity.

Greenbo Lake


One of my succulents, the one Erin gave me that inspired my succulent garden, finally gave up.  It was not healthy from the get-go; it had been terribly overwatered at the store and never recovered.  Anyway, I replaced it and added another specimen…along with another rock and a piece of driftwood.  The wood is a bit too big, but I like it.  Perhaps someday I’ll move it all to a bigger container and it’ll be just the right size.

Succulent garden 2.0

Miss Molly found nothing to nibble on and has no appreciation for succulents.

All this rain has brought many fungi to life in the woods where I walk Miss Gracie.  Toadstools are kind of creepy and mysterious…they just pop up unexpectedly.  Some are deadly poisonous. I’ve oftentimes wondered if the soil has something to do with how they are shaped or what color they are, or are those characteristics completely determined by the spores that are their seeds?  I should do some research on that, and then I’ll know.     



I've never seen anything like this before.  Maybe it's extraterrestrial.