Monday, January 2, 2017

2017

Looking back at my blog I realized that I never set any goals for 2016!  Yes!  Good planning!  Clearly, if I don't set any goals, there's no need to feel bad when I don't meet them!  I will chalk this lack of goal setting up to the (very stupid) decision to stop taking a particular medication that helps tremendously with my anxiety and PMDD.  There was no reason to stop it other than that I don't like taking it b/c I think it means I am weak.  If I wasn't weak, I could control things myself, etc.  So, I did a slow, 2 month taper and quit it all together right before Christmas. 
Brilliant!
I was okay for about 2 weeks until it was well and truly out of my system and then I stopped sleeping - for about 3 months.  I also stopped eating for a few weeks in there and lost about 10 pounds.  In spite of trying several prescription and non-prescription sleep aids, believing that if I could just sleep, everything would be okay, and weeks and weeks and weeks of trying to power through it myself while I felt increasingly AWFUL, I finally gave in, admitted that biological and hormonal imbalances are not something I can control with willpower, and started back on the meds.  Thankfully, I started sleeping better almost immediately and was my "happy go-lucky" (ha!) self in about a month.  I'm still down about 8 of the 10 pounds but I'm not worrying too much about it because I really like cookies.

So that's a long winded explanation for me being able to claim that I met 100% of my zero 2016 goals.  Woo hoo!!!  Yay me! 😁😁😁


As for 2017, I'm trying to be somewhat circumspect about goal setting.  a few days ago, I read a great article by Jon Acuff about goal setting:  there are things you HAVE to do (or you'll die, get fired, or end your marriage), things you want to do, and things you think you should do.  Be as broad as necessary, and then whittle from there.  It actually helps to frame things in this way.  I've always kept a running list of things I want to do - mostly things I want to fix about myself - but I realized that many of these are actually things I think I SHOULD do, whether or not I really want to or really need to. 


That said, I have two things I've left on my "need to do" list (one health related and one work related) and two things I've selected from my "want to do" list. 


The most important of those "wants" is to set appropriate boundaries at work; namely - to leave when my day is over, don't work uncompensated time on the weekends and my comp days and holidays, and don't be so quick to give up my time off just because I feel like I have to.  I have let people take advantage of me.  That's on me.  So the boundary setting has to be on me too.  And it's not like it gets me anywhere.  In fact, one person, she of the "you are a horrible person" review last year, uses my work ethic to mock me.  The majority of others couldn't care less.  But that's a post for another day.

The other "want" is a little les serious - my hips are super tight and I want to work on stretching them out.  I'm taking a week off from running to let them rest.  Maybe by this time next year I'll be more flexible?


Then the should list - I'm pretty much ignoring.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Twenty Years in the Blink of an Eye

I started my career twenty years ago.  Twenty. Years. Ago.  It seems like forever but at the same time seems like yesterday.  I can’t think about it for too long or I get really overwhelmed and sad.  But, I guess I can think about it long enough to write something (for the first time in 6 months, so much for writing every day).

Since I had no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up, and was literally crippled by anxiety much of the time, I elected to stay with the familiar and continued at SJU for my masters.  That bought me another year before I had to think about working full time, and never mind that it meant subsisting on my T.A. stipend and what I made over the summer and at a paid internship.  So I moved into a crappy little “junior one bedroom” which was basically an efficiency with a closet that doubled as a bedroom, about 6 blocks from campus in West Philly.  Bars on the windows, roaches on the floor, crazy drug dealing neighbor (who was the wife of the super) who would both dump her 4 bratty kids on me regularly and let herself into my apartment to steal change.   But I digress.  That’s a story for another year.

When I started looking for jobs I had no clue.  I went to the career services office, checked the want ads, sent out resumes to random places that were advertising, and hoped for the best.  I interviewed at a couple of places – Progressive Insurance comes to mind – and was offered a job as a customer service representative someplace that required the women to wear skirts b/c the manager liked it.  As hard as it was to turn down THAT offer, I did, and kept looking.  Then I got an interview with a government agency.  Only I had no idea what the job was or which office it was in.  At the time, the Feds had this thing called the Outstanding Scholars Program (pre-USAjobs.gov) and you would send a resume in to the HR office and they would match you up, sometimes months later, with job openings.  So I didn’t actually know what I was interviewing for (and didn’t think to ask when they called to schedule it).  I only knew where I was supposed to go (3535 Market Street), when I was supposed to get there (for some reason I was like an hour early b/c I was so nervous about finding it), and the name of the person I was talking to.  I showed up at the security desk with no idea how to contact the person I was meeting or which office he was in. 

Luckily, they figured it out and sent up upstairs.  I can’t remember the floor now, but it opened to a small reception area.  I told the person behind the bullet proof glass who I was meeting and sat down to wait.   Eventually a tall skinny guy with polyester pants and a bad tie (imagine government wonk and you’ve got it) came out and took me back.   I nailed the interview, had a great rapport with the guy, impressed him with my poise when he basically grabbed a file that was literally 2 feet thick, slammed it on his desk, and asked me what I would do if my boss gave me that file and a couple of hours to become familiar with it (I answered with something along the lines of “open it up and get started”).  Apparently I was one of a very few who didn’t offer up some sort of pre-emptive excuse to not getting the file reviewed and after about an hour, he offered me the job on the spot.   Which you can’t actually do in the federal government.   We went from his office to his boss’s office and I chatted with that gentleman for another 30 minutes.  They agreed they wanted to hire me, I said that would be great, and I went on my merry way to await the official job offer.

Eventually it came (the gears of government grind slowly) and I was officially offered employment as a “Periodic Rolls Claim Examiner” for the Office of Workers Compensation Programs (OWCP) (part of the USDOL) on a 4 year, temporary appointment.  I was given my intake day (what we now call onboarding here), December 23, 2016 and told where to report.  Right before Christmas.  I knew nothing about anything.  I didn’t have a clue what I would be doing, except very generally.  I didn’t have a clue what any of the benefits forms meant or how Federal employment worked.  Did I get vacation?  (Yes, 4 hours a pay period accumulating up to 240 hours).  Did I get sick leave? (same, but no limit of accumulation).  Health Benefits? (yep).  I also got life insurance and enrollment into the retirement program (a 401K with matching).  Sweet.  It was a pittance ($21,000?) but had the promise (guarantee) of advancement beyond that low level fairly quickly.

My boss was to be the guy who interviewed me (he of the bad suit) – John M..   My first day, after the paperwork and swearing in, I was taken upstairs to a large room, lined with giant rotating file cabinets and about 6 desks.  I met the guy who was to be my mentor/training/senior claims examiner – Dennis A. – and the other people who had been lucky enough to be hired under the same 4-year appointment.  All of them were a good deal older and all of them were already federal employees.  One had been a secretary in that office and two had been displaced from other agencies.   Dennis and John set us up with one computer to share, a copy of the regulations, law, and training manual and set us on our own to start reading.  Starting a new job 2 days before Christmas is not the most productive time, as you might imagine. 

I was thrilled to get a half day off on Christmas Eve (courtesy of the White House) and returned to work on the 26th.  It was about 2 weeks of nothing but reading with occasional Q & A sessions.   I came back from New Year’s with the flu – fever, chills, aches, the works – but no sick leave.  No one told me I could borrow sick leave so I just powered through, got another half day and full day for the holiday and was able to hit the ground running the following week.

And as they say, the rest is history.  Twenty years has passed in a blur.  I got hired as permanent after about 9 months and started looking for another job after about 18 months.  I knew pretty quickly that I didn’t want to stay there forever.  I interviewed at several places – as a program analyst with the FBI (too much travel), as a program analyst at GSA (offered the job before they had authority to hire, wouldn’t return my calls after that), and EPA.  I was able to jump ship to EPA in October 1998, first to the legal office as a paralegal (whaaaaaat?) and then after a year to my current job. 

Dennis has retired.  John has retired.  Most of the people I worked with there have retired.  Many of the people I've worked with at EPA have retired.  Hey!  I want to retire (14.34 years until I am "eligible" to leave and find something I really LOVE to do).

Twenty years in the blink of an eye.

Twenty years and all I got was this stupid certificate and plastic pin, sent through interoffice mail (why is this a video??).

video



I’ll spare you my emotions on the subject at the moment b/c they are pretty muddled right now.  Part of my 2017 goal is to write more (ha!  I’ve heard that before!) so perhaps I’ll sort them out later.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Haiku


Solo, Walking - I'm

Enjoying the City sights,

For now.  In Indy.

Stream of Consciousness from Indy


We are a musical family.  K plays the piano and is learning the guitar.  I “play” the piano and “sing.”  B listens to music.   Music is very often playing in our house.  Our animals have an interesting reaction to the piano.  Puss really likes it.  If the dogs are outside and someone is playing (someone other than B. who can’t play), Puss will meow his way up the stairs, jump on the piano bench, and sit there and purr.  The dogs are very attuned to Puss’s presence above ground so he doesn’t get much opportunity to come up and jam with K on the piano for fear of getting trampled and having the pee squeezed out of him by a long pokey nose or a giant paw.  Pippi and Kitty couldn’t care less about the piano, but Toby is occasionally interested.  Generally speaking, he’ll just lay there and watch.  Occasionally he’ll let out a long groan – like he’s in pain or just can’t bear to listen to the song any more.  Sometimes he starts to howl, which is always very reassuring when I’m the one playing.  For a couple of years we’ve thought his critique of our playing was just hit or miss.  Maybe he was sick of hearing a particular song?  Or maybe he wanted to sing along?  Today though, K was working on her scales and some exercises and discovered that Toby only howls to E minor chords.  Why E minor?  No clue, but he HAAAAAAATTTTEEEEs it.  Or he loves it?  I’m not sure.  He howls like he is in agony.  Or he howls like we’re, quite literally, playing his song and he just has to sing it out.   I hate to think that our playing is hurting him in some way, but short of avoiding the E minor chord (hard for me – what’s an E minor chord?), I’m not sure what else to do to relieve his discomfort.  I wish Dr. Doolittle was available to translate for me.

I’m in Indianapolis this week for work.  Like, Toby’s relationship with E minor chords, I have a love hate relationship with traveling.  I get very anxious before I travel – not about anything specific (which is why, I suppose, they call it generalized anxiety disorder, eh?) but just in general.  For a few days leading up to the trip I’m just a grump.  I try very hard to minimize the anxiety by planning.  What’s the weather going to be like?  Are their places to run? Is there a good gym?  If not, is there a good gym nearby?  Are there restaurants that I can grab a nice salad?  Does the hotel have wifi?  But still…anxiety.  Once I am on my way and in the air, I’m usually okay.  The anxiety becomes more specific – will the plane crash?  Will I suck at my presentations?  Will I have to spend the week hanging out with my co-worker who drives me bonkers?  And then once I am here, I tend to enjoy myself.  I like walking around different cities.  I’ve been to Seattle (twice); Chicago (3 times); Pittsburgh; San Francisco; Denver (3 times); Boston; Saint Louis; Kansas City, MO; Portland, OR (twice); Washington DC (a ton), New Orleans; and Nashville, and maybe a few others.  Those are the conference or training trips, where I’ve been giving presentations or receiving training.  The case work trips aren’t usually to super nice places so I’m not going to list them.  I’ve generally found something about every place that I really liked – a nice park, a good restaurant, great walking trails, a fun shopping area, SOMETHING. My favorite trip by far was San Francisco.  It is the one place where I actually did some touristy – rode the cable cars, ate chowder on the pier, took a sunset cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge, etc.   I also have enjoyed Seattle quite a bit – going to the big fish market, meeting an online friend for lunch, etc.   My least favorite was probably Portland, OR and I didn’t get to actually see much of Nashville to decide if I liked it.  

I tend to keep to myself on these trips, even when there are people I know there as well.  I’m sure some people thing I am pretty antisocial for not hanging out after the conference-days end.   I’m friendly and outgoing during the conferences or meetings and I really do enjoy talking to people and hearing about their experiences (which remind me that I’m really not all that and a bag of chips at my job, even though I like to pretend that I am), but after 9 or 10 hours of that, I need my alone time and quiet to decompress.  I like to walk around, find something to eat, take it back to the hotel, do some work, prep for the next day, put on my jammies and read until I fall asleep.  It’s a rare treat to be able to stretch out in a king size bed where I control the A/C, I control the TV, I control where I put my legs and there are no dogs and no dog hair (except what I brought with me). 

This is the first time I’ve been to Indianapolis and I have to say that I am impressed so far.  The area where my hotel is located is right down town.  There is a huge park a few blocks away, the capital and city center a few blocks away, and the IUPUI campus a few blocks away.  Last night after I got checked in I grabbed my sun hat and ventured out.   After about a half a mile, I stumbled on the canal path.  Supposedly it is a 10 mile loop along this low finished canal.  It was marginally cooler next to the water and there were a ton of people out running and walking and a few families of ducks swimming along.  I followed that for a bit and then stumbled upon the IUPUI natatorium – site of Y nationals and other big meets.  It was on my list of things to see, so I crossed the street and looked for an entrance.  I was confused when I saw, “ROAD TO RIO!” signs plastered all over the doors because I knew the Olympic Trials are not this week.  Except, as I found, they ARE!  The diving is in town.  I walked in, reveled in the air-conditioning for a moment and then walked in like I knew where I was going.  There was no way to get into the bleachers without a ticket (major security) but I could walk out onto a small observation platform at the complete other end of the pool.  I could see them taking practice dives and I stood there for about 10 minutes watching.  I guess I could have stayed there, but I was worried that they would toss me out when the actual competition started.  The women’s 10 meter semifinals is tonight at 7, so I will probably stop in and check out the practices again and maybe see if I can walk through the store too! 

My hotel is beautiful – Hyatt Regency downtown.  It is huge with all the rooms on the outside of a ring and this great bit atrium in the center.  The elevators are windowed and face the atrium which is cool.  Our conference room is in the hotel which makes it very convenient with Starbucks in the building, and a ton of restaurants within a few blocks.  The workout room is pretty nice as far as hotel gyms go.   A bunch of good cardio machines and both nautilus and free-weights.  There’s a pool too, but as I mentioned, I am anti-pool at the moment. 

By Friday, I’ll be about sick of being here.  Sick of eating out (that’ll be tomorrow actually).  Sick of being around 100 people all day.  Sick of smiling.  Just sick of it all and ready to go home.  I won’t be home until probably about 9 on Friday and I plan to get all my workouts in while I am here so I don’t have to get up early or do anything except take care of my house on Saturday.

Speaking of being all that and a bag of chips…I am really kind of miserable at work right now.  Same story different day.  The work is fine.  I like the work.  I have a lot of it to keep me busy and make my days go by quickly.  Sometimes (often)  I have too much of it and feel like I am drowning.  The problem is that the people who matter in my office do NOT think I am all-that.  The people who matter have made it very clear that they do not care that I have too much on my plate and it often makes me physically sick.  It’s no secret that my boss is not a fan but I recently lost a valuable ally – someone who I considered a friend.  I’m not sure what happened there but s/he has made it abundantly clear over the last couple of months that s/he is 1) no longer my friend and 2) no longer interested in being a sounding board/mentor for work issues.  I have to admit – it hurts.  And it makes me wonder what I am doing wrong (or what is wrong with me) that I’ve been in the weird place for the last year and a half.   A couple of really confusing and hurtful things have happened lately and I'm at a loss.  I work hard.  I never say I can’t or won’t do something.  If someone asks for help – I help them.  That’s just who I am.  But…who I am doesn’t seem to be working for me right now and I'm not sure why. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Swimming vs. Running.

I used to swim.  Not only did I swim, I loved swimming.  It was relaxing.  It allowed me to clear my mind.  It gave me a good workout.  I used to swim before work – at 4am.  I’d have the whole pool to myself for the most part or maybe share it with one or two other early birds.  But swimming on an empty stomach was hard and I discovered that I was able to get a better swim by going at lunch time.  So for a while, on my work at home days, I’d get up and start work early, head to the gym at lunch time, swim for 45-50 minutes, shower, and head home.  Then work got too busy and my swims got shorter and less interesting.  I didn’t have time (or so I told myself) to do anything other than just swim straight for however long I had.  That got boring and over time I lost my motivation to get there.  Now I haven’t swum in 2 months and before that was hit or miss for 6 months or more.  Kind of pathetic for someone who used to love it.

Part of not loving it was the headaches.  I would almost always get a headache after I swam.  I’m sure it has something to do with my head position while I’m swimming freestyle, but it was pretty irritating.  I also was not interested in swimming while I had a headache and was afraid to swim if I had recently taken imitrex FOR a headache.  Then my back got really stiff for some reason and it was uncomfortable to swim more than a mile. 

What I HAVE been doing since the weather got warmer is run.  It takes so much less time and burns so many more calories to run than it does to swim.  I can do it before work - while the sun is coming up - or at lunch time from home.  If I’m super busy, I can get a great workout in 30 minutes.  Add another 15 to stretch out and shower, and I’m back to work in no time.  If I have time before work, I can run a little longer and just start my day a bit later.  It’s so much easier to fit that in than to swim, especially when I will need to wear fins for a while to actually cover any yardage when I do get back it the water!  On non-run days, I lift weight.  I admit, I do feel a little guilty.  The last couple of months I barely go to the gym when I used to be there 5 days a week.  I’ve accumulated a huge stack of magazines that I used to save to read on cardio machines but I’ll repurpose as pool or beach reading instead.

I’ve done only 3 official races and I’m afraid to try any more.  I don’t want to embarrass myself and run slower than I did before.  I don’t actually train FOR anything.  I’ve slowly increased my mileage – upping it a little each week from 8 miles to 10, to 12 etc.  The most I’ve done in a week is 16 and I think that is plenty for me.  The longest I’ve run at any one time is 6.75.  I play it by ear each day – if I feel good, I’ll run farther or run faster and try to increase my per mile pace.  If I’m tired or sore, I’ll slow down or stop after 4 miles.  This week I ran 3 days, 5 miles at a time.  One of the runs felt good (7:39), one felt awful, and one felt great (7:27).  I know I’m no speed demon, but I do okay for someone who isn’t training for anything or trying very hard.   I’d like to do more, but I already walk about 25 miles a week with the dumb dogs.  Even though it is just walking, my body can only take so many total miles before it complains.

I much prefer to run outside then on a treadmill.  Treadmill tends to make my hips really sore and I can’t go as fast – which is the opposite from what most people will say.  I like being able to vary my route, look around, visit our swan, and listen to pod casts.  The miles pass faster outside then they do inside.  I’ve been very lucky that the weather has cooperated lately.  It’s been cool enough often enough on days that I am home.  When it’s not, I’ll head to the gym and do the elliptical or ride a bike instead, but that’s not as much fun.   I do wish I had a running buddy to keep pace with me, but running solo is okay too. 


I worry sometimes that at the age of 43 I don’t have too many years of running left in me.  At some point, I’ll have to slow down, and maybe go back to just cardio machines, or heaven help me, swimming.  But for now, I’ll enjoy the endorphins, and the post-workout relaxation, and the strong lungs, and toned legs and worry about the rest when it happens.

Discouragement

Today I am tempted to write about how much I hate everyone…but that wouldn’t be entirely true.  I don’t actually HATE everyone.  There aren’t even many specific people that I actively dislike.  It’s more of a dislike of human behavior in general.  The unfortunate thing is that though I can often avoid the actual people I don’t like, it’s not possible to avoid all human beings. 
I’d like to pick one of the topics I listed and dive right in, but I am feeling really discouraged right now.  It was a rough day at work – but really for no good reason other than that I am overly sensitive.  Oh!  And I found out indirectly that I didn’t get a second interview for the Other Job.  And my indirectly I mean that I was walking down the hallway and bumped into someone who DID get an interview.   They never actually called or e-mailed the also-rans.  But I expected that, right?  So it shouldn’t really bother me.

Oh!  And I found out that the promotion to that I had been told won’t happen because “we aren’t doing those* right now?”   Yeah, well, that was just for me apparently.

So, yeah…discouraging day.

Luckily I have a good friend at work to whom I can vent.**  We are unlikely friends.  He is from a different generation (I call him my work dad), on the opposite end of the spectrum politically, and a Union steward to boot.  He’s lived in the city his entire life, earning a degree in Criminal Justice from LaSalle.   He’s also a kind, smart, funny, supportive, wise, and positive guy.  In spite of our differences, our general world views are very similar.  He gets my sense of humor and shares my love of insane dogs and the beach.  He isn’t a big fan of forced work gatherings or useless meetings.  He works hard and loves his family and I respect him a great deal.   Over the years we have swapped many stories about our mutts, our families, and our lives.  He, like me, is an avid reader and is always working on a Very Serious Book (unlike me) at lunch time.  He is technically eligible to retire now, but has no immediate plans (praise God).  When he does finally decide to leave, I will be more than little bit lost.  The fact that it will likely happen about the same time K leaves for college is not going to be a good thing.  But…like Scarlett O’Hara, “I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow.





* non-supervisory promotions

** I used to have two such friends but that’s a story for another day.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Taking Back My Time

After the Work By Design summit thing, I started following a bunch of the contributors whose message I really enjoyed or found useful.  I'm trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to integrate some steps and habits into my work life that will make it more efficient and less stressful as well as to try and identify something (anything) to be passionate about.  So far I'm sad to say, work is winning.

One of the bloggers/writers I really like is Jon Acuff.  I'll let you check him out on your own but he's really smart, funny, and engaging,  He's a christian.  And he's a wicked good writer.  One of his group projects this summer is Do Summer!  Basically - take a skill you want to sharpen, spend 15 minutes a day doing it every day until the end of the summer, and you'll have invested 25 hours into improving that skill.  The skill I've chosen is writing.  I used to blog all the time.  I used to have aspirations to become "a Blogger" and write things that were interesting enough for people to actually seek them out or share them with their friends.  But, I really am boring.

I used to write for our church.  But then I got busy with coaching and work exploded to fill my days and kill my spirit and I stopped writing.

I kind of miss the outlet.

So, my Do Summer project is to write 15 minutes a day, every day, and see if it gets easier.  I've asked my Facebook friends for ideas on topics (expect to get exactly nothing), and if all else fails, I'll troll the internet and copy other people's ideas for my own inspiration.

Here's a partial list of things I might write about:

My dog Hershey.
Why I love chocolate chip cookies.
Watching the trains from the Furnace Road bridge.
Barbies vs. Action figures
The relativity of distance when you are 5.
Zucchini
My favorite books.
Travel destinations.
Planet Fitness.
Learning to ride a bike.
My best work friend.
My co-workers.
Working out updates
Leaf houses.
Canada Lake.
Crime on my street.
People watching at the pool.

I already missed two days so I'll have to make that up at some point - maybe double up a few days if I have multiple topics.  But 15 minutes really isn't that long of a time.   Look, I'm done already!

Edited to add topics suggested on Facebook that I might attempt:
Friendship
Ways I am the same/different that I was 25 years ago.
People I observe on the way to work
Best meal I've ever had
Donating my eyes (requires too much creativity, I'm afraid)
Secret Life of a Swim Mom
Family
What makes me most happy right now.
Breaking my arm in high school
Where and when I'd travel back in time
Why we drive to the beach in SC every August
What I would do if I was going to die in a week