Life Shifts Continue…🎃

I vividly remember driving to work a year and a half ago, starting my first day back into what I term the “business-work-force”. After 20 years as an adjunct professor, raising three children and getting them into college, I was looking forward to taking a much-needed long, deep breath, expecting to slowly consider how this mid-lifer would resurrect one of my hobbies, or read a few books or start really writing again…you know, the kind of things that running a household and raising a family often prevent for a couple of decades.

These plans were quickly squashed when my teaching salary could not compensate for the unexpected termination of my husband’s position, due to a corporate restructuring at his ‘big pharma’ company.

He ultimately secured another job that was to be “temporary” and suffered a hefty pay cut. Yep, this mid-lifer was forced to reinvent herself in a world where youth rules.  

More than the tasks of the job or meeting the staff on that very first day, it was the traffic that caused me the greatest stress :). My teaching schedule required a 6am departure for morning classes or 3pm for evening courses. I was not a part of the “rat race” which I wrote a post about last year HERE. Teaching college has its own challenges but I wouldn’t call it a grind. The “grind” in my opinion begins when rubber hits the road.

Thruway drivers weaved in and out, cut me off, and acted as if traveling at 60mph was a granny-pace. On the side roads, cars ran red lights and rolled through stop signs while their drivers sipped coffee and scrolled Instagram. My personal favorite was sitting at lights that changed four times before I could get through with 20 vehicles ahead of me.

At the beginning of my new career, I moved within the company cautiously, careful about who I befriended while examining the proverbial “lay of the land”. I was also managing silent insecurities having to navigate a corporate environment that I hadn’t been a part of since I was 26 years young. People much younger had more experience. This truth and my own desire to succeed forced me to work harder – for myself. An unexpected outcome was a promotion within three months along with a raise. Four months later, I was offered another generous raise. This too was unexpected since by that time I had become respectfully vocal regarding how the company had to make improvements in staff benefits, create an employee engagement plan, and execute a few other items if they hoped to retain good people.  

They were receptive to a few changes, so I moved forward with implementation knowing full-well that a few free lunches, celebrating birthdays and adding a newsletter would not make up for the level of unethical behaviors, potentially illegal actions and bizarre management practices.

Really bright and well-paid engineers were leaving the organization for less money. Horrible employees were inexplicably retained. Micro-management of high-level staff was suffocating. Several months ago, I determined to leave. The problem was finding time to send out resumes when the president continuously called me on my days off and the amount of work had risen to 11-hour days.

During August alone, I had moved my youngest back to her university, moved my oldest daughter back home, helped my son through a wonderful job change and my semester of teaching started back up (I still teach part time online). The nest was full at the end of summer and now the twins are both home working remotely for great companies. September’s non-work-non-teaching time was spent planning a baby shower for a friend’s daughter. We are the sorts who can’t seem to do the minimum. We are of the life motto: more is more and life events should be celebrated in BIG ways. The shower was last Sunday and the effort was worth it.

Throughout these home-life changes and additional responsibilities, the stress at work escalated to an unhealthy level and the owners were immovable when encouraged to rationally consider why ¾ of the employees had exited. When you can’t get through a brick wall, nor find a path around it and are prevented from climbing higher, you find something new.

As I drove to work on my final day, I weaved through traffic like a champion NASCAR driver. However, I’m a safe-never-run-stop-signs-or-red-lights kind of gal who always lets people merge. But I’m tougher in spirit now than I was a couple short years ago. There are pros and cons to being in difficult situations and living out unexpected turns in the road of life. One positive is that I collected some good people along the way. These same sweet souls gave me three weeks of farewell cards, gifts, food, etc., and have reached out multiple times with expressions of missing me deeply since my departure only a couple of weeks ago. For those that exited the company long before me, they still keep in touch.

God gave me peace that it was time to leave but I wasn’t clear about what was next other than continuing to teach. One thing was for sure: the highly professional, always-dressed-up corporation I worked for displayed unethical behaviors that really disgusted me. Little did I know, being disgusted was about to take on a vastly more elevated meaning.

Two days after my final day at work – just when I was praying about my “next assignment” – I was stunningly placed on a grand jury that would require my faithful attendance for two months. Before any of the 25 of us could say “what-the-what?”, we were immediately sworn in for duty. As the lot of us walked to our cars, stunned as to why we weren’t questioned as we had been in previous years when called for jury duty, we realized that fear of COVID was preventing swarms of potential jurors from even showing up. For those gainfully employed, they were beside themselves about the amount of time required with less than $5/hour in payment.

Many people LOVE jury duty. They sincerely LOVE it and wish they could go back more frequently. I’ll agree that it’s interesting to learn the inner workings of our judicial system up close and personal. However, the lawyers warned us that the material our particular group would see was especially “difficult”. To my knowledge, there is only one person out of my large group that believes this to be a fun experience.

I love my country. It’s important to serve, but day after day, hour after hour, we review case after case of the worst atrocities. You already know this from staring at your social media and your preferred news channel, but humanity is depraved. Each day we sit in our chairs, reviewing endless, sickening behavior. I’m viewing in real-life what I wouldn’t ever watch on television.

Two random, (non-grisly) things you are already aware of but I’ll share to confirm from my brief legal experience: 1) There is a camera recording you in places you really don’t think about. Did you get that? Not just at stop signs, street lights and outside of buildings. We are being recorded e v e r y w h e r e.  2) I have learned that Google can virtually pinpoint how long I was in the produce aisle at my local grocery store two years ago on a specific date merely because I have a gmail account. Did you get that? Via the email accounts they can track a person’s whereabouts.

If I wasn’t already repelled with tech companies as described HERE and in other posts, these proceedings are merely additional confirmation. No one to blame but ourselves for downloading our apps and opening up our personal data to the global cyber-thieves. They remain lightyears ahead and it’s too late to attempt controlling them. While it’s great if they supply pertinent information to catch the bad guys, it’s astounding to be educated on the depth of their knowledge regarding our daily lives. I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest of the mind-blowing information we have been learning alongside observations of the most gruesome evil.

On that happy note (insert laughter), it’s been one month since I’ve posted but I hope to rekindle my online communications with the special people who write on WordPress. It’s been a community I’ve missed in the last several weeks. Most of you have also had lulls in your writings for various reasons, so I know you get it. Likely, I still won’t be able to write as frequently as I hope to during this current season, but I’m going to try…

Happy Halloween to all!

1st Flights Post-COVID? Inconsistent. But So Is Everything.

After rescheduling a trip to see my daughter three times since COVID hit, I finally traveled the first week of July. I was on four separate flights, all with American Airlines. As a result of only using one airline, obviously my testimony here is limited. Many people were surprised to learn I was willing to fly, especially on the very day (July 1st) that the airline would no longer require space between passengers. My flights were changed twice within two weeks prior to take off and I learned much of the change was due to combining flights to carry more passengers with fewer aircraft in the air. Like their competitors, American Airlines was bleeding money for several months and needed to make more revenue.

The route was: NY to Philadelphia, Philly to FL, FL to Charlotte, NC, Charlotte back to NY. Prior to flying, there was much discussion among the family and we pondered weird questions such as, “should we double-mask?” “Should we wear two pairs of plastic gloves so we can pull off the top pair after security?” We have been blessed throughout these months with good health but still take the pandemic seriously-particularly at the thought of intermixing with hundreds of others at airports.

I was quickly deceived when blocks of seats in my home airport were taped off in bright yellow, assuring ample distance between passengers waiting to board. I took off the gloves, as it was far easier to constantly sanitize my hands vs. deal with the crunching up gloves. The yellow tape and masked airline staff gave me security. I relaxed.

Until I boarded.

The young man next to me pulled his mask down immediately upon buckling his seat belt. It was July 1st, so perhaps there was a new rule about not needing it once you were settled in your seat. He sniffed hard. Then wiped his nose with his hand. I shifted deeply into the window, my hair pressed firmly against the glass. My mind questioned whether I got the rules wrong. I didn’t. An announcement came over the speaker threatening that anyone not wearing their face covering over their mouth and nose might possibly be removed from the flight.

I again relaxed. It would just be a matter of minutes before the flight attendant asked my neighbor to properly mask himself. Wrong again. She glanced at him, kept walking and half way up the aisle, she too pulled her mask down, exposing her nose but covering her mouth.

A man 2 rows behind me coughed every 7 minutes during the flight to Philadelphia. This is not an exaggeration. It was excessive and the poor souls around him were in visible anguish each time I turned to peek. During his coughing intermissions, he blew his nose. Over and over. The 70-something woman to my right two rows ahead who I had a clear view of sanitized her hands every time that man started up again. Fear was on her face. Even through her tightly secured mask. 

He could have had allergies. Or, a cold. Or, COVID. Who knows? The flight attendants made no fuss over the cougher.

Different states have different rules. We New Yorkers tend to be more uptight than most and maybe these were Pennsylvania flight attendants with Pennsylvania rules.

The flight from PA to FL was the exact opposite. The flight attendants were serious. They repeatedly warned specific people to pull their masks completely over their noses. They moved a few of us to different seats (myself included) to create some additional space in-between passengers. These women were no-nonsense and I appreciated their awareness.

The return flight from FL to NC was PACKED. We passengers were stuffed into the hot flight like sardines. There wasn’t an inch to move and the flight attendants had to pull carry-on’s off the flight because the overhead compartments were full. Similar to flight #1, the 30-something next to me pulled his mask down. Just as I was about to request that he cover his face, he pulled it back up. Then down. I just took a deep breath, hoping our shared air was COVID-free. 

The NC to NY flight was more spacious but at that point, if I was going to contract COVID, I would have definitely picked it up during the previous three flights. I was over it. “It” being any form of worry. I had been exposed to more germs, sweat, coughing, sneezing and people in hours than I had been in months. Flying is an uncontrolled germy environment, regardless of how attentive the airline staff may be. 

During my subsequent 2-week mandatory self-quarantine, I started thinking about the flight behavior inconsistencies. Then, I realized – those inconsistencies can be added to all the rest we experience daily.

Depending on the size of the person, there might be six inches of space between my face and the person next to me on a flight. But we need six feet of space between humans everywhere else. Target and Walmart managers are clicking counters as customers walk in to be sure they don’t go over 91 employees in the GIANT super stores.

-We get our temperature taken at work every single day. No temperatures were taken in the four cities I traveled in at the airports. I could have boarded with an elevated temperature.

-When flying, we literally share the same air as the person next to us but we must be separated at restaurants with outdoor seating.

-A shopper can sneeze, wipe their nose and then touch all the clothes on every rack at TJMaxx, but if the clothes are tried on, they must be put aside for 72 hours before they are placed back on the rack. 

-As I stood in a long Kohls line with my son and several other rule-abiding mask-wearing customers ready to check out, a family of four (Mom, Dad, toddler daughter and maybe 8-year old son) remained mask-less. Mom and Dad joked, laughed heartily, moved around constantly and continuously took up space near senior citizens in line who desperately tried to avoid them. Kohls staff walked by unphased by the obvious display of rebellion. 

These are just a few of my personal inconsistent experiences. No doubt, you have several of your own. My family and I follow protocols. It’s part of our work lives and we willingly practice COVID safety in our personal lives. While many COVID-related research studies contradict themselves, one thing appears consistent: wearing a mask helps prevent contraction of viruses. 

The bottom line is that inconsistencies will remain. Not just because there are rule-breakers everywhere. But because those who are supposed to uphold the rules are worn out by the violators and society can’t idiot-proof every potential threat, though America is currently trying. Although it’s not entirely as simple as this – taking personal responsibility and respecting others would go a long way. 

Could Libraries Make a Come Back?

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As someone who still loves to hold a hardcover book and turn paper pages, I can’t help but wonder if libraries could make a real comeback. Two situations have caused me to ponder this lately. 1) What today’s college students think is “research” makes me cringe when I’m grading papers. 2) Libraries offer more than good reads – including a sense of community that is hard to find anywhere else these days…not even at the local, trendy coffee shops – and believe me, I love a good, trendy coffee shop.

While libraries might be of interest to people, they have been losing business. A quiet place without air pods in their ears or an app on their phone equals boredom for most American youth. Adults increasingly have demanding careers. When not at work, parents are running with their kids. Too many senior citizens can’t afford to retire. Many people who previously loved the library just don’t have-or make-the time to go.

The bottom line: libraries are surviving, but not thriving. While we can blame our hectic lifestyles for a portion of this truth, technology is largely responsible.

By technology, I’m not just referring to kids being on their phones. It’s become too easy to turn on our smart tv’s and plop down. Households have multiple laptops, phones, desktops and iPads all under one roof – mine included.

In full disclosure, I give Amazon plenty of book business and once my kids hit high school, we rarely went to the library anymore. We all were in school, worked, or were on fields and in hockey rinks. Outside of my bible and textbooks for teaching, any other reading was a luxury I couldn’t afford for a few years. But, I still liked knowing my favorite local libraries were there if I wanted them.

I’m not a fan of The Atlantic, but I came across an article with this quote that summarized what many feel: “Americans love libraries. No, wait, scratch that. Americans love the idea that they love libraries. A new Pew survey published Tuesday finds that while people report feeling strongly about the importance of public libraries in their communities, those people are actually using libraries less and less.” 

That quote comes from the appropriately titled piece, Keep the Library, Lose the Books. The article caught my attention because I was fortunate to have visited the Trinity College Library in Dublin last summer and their photo looks like my photos below.

Prior to COVID, I started going to the library periodically and then, my 20-something kids tagged along if they were home. I wasn’t a regular attender, but after the first visit back in a long time, I was reacquainted with quiet. The loudness of life tends to overwhelm me, so the quiet was the main attraction when I stepped back into the spacious, book-lined rooms.

Soon, I rediscovered the joy of reading. There was no pressure to put down the book, jump on the laptop and do a little extra work like I would at home. Being in the library reminded me that reading is a worthy endeavor.

I lifted my eyes one Saturday afternoon to see young Moms and older Grandmas walking their precious toddlers into the library preschool readings. The animated book read was followed by a craft and snack. Advertisements invited children’s, teens and adults to unique workshops. There were interesting classes advertised for the upcoming weeks. Holiday decorating. Writing fiction. Knitting. There was something for everyone.

Arriving back home after my morning library inspiration, I settled into my online courses, wincing and grumbling about what my students use as sources when writing their “research” papers.

What we deem ‘research’ has vastly changed since I earned my degrees a couple decades ago. :Library of Congress:

Photo: Thomas Jefferson Building: Library of Congressthe largest library in the world.

Trinity College of Dublin-August 2019-my photos

Even though I’ve been in HR the last year, I still teach college courses online and in the 22 years of being in education, there has been an astounding turn regarding what’s acceptable to claim as ‘truth’. Everyone is an authority, particularly those the least “well-read”. Some students firmly believe that long-proven historical truths are myths. Arguments ensue as to whether or not the world is flat. However, nothing perplexes me more than what modern college students deem academic research.

The oldest to youngest students and all ages in between-think “credible” sources include Buzzfeed, Refinery29, Reddit, BoredPanda, etc. Good for the creators of (mostly) entertainment and opinion reading that keeps people attached to their screens, killing off their God-designated lifetime of hours by the clicks. These sites are making good money but students using such material as factual data is no longer comical.

It’s not only college students. Even those seeking facts about which new dishwasher to purchase or car or water filter click on the sites “reviewing” their proposed new dishwasher. Many reviews are accurate. Many more are not. When someone receives a new book from a publisher in exchange for their honest review, I tend to believe the review. When someone reviews 27 free beauty products and they all receive a 5-star rating, I’m skeptical.See the source imageWhen you’re honestly trying to find credible data about the new laptop you want to purchase, Google virtually never delivers the right, accurate or closest “hit” to your search bar words, even when you click “verbatim” seeking results. Except when words such as Macys, Kohls, etc., are typed in the search bar. In the old days, if you clicked page 7 of your search results, you might get close to real data about the laptop you originally typed in the search bar. Now, page 7 often delivers nearly the same content as the first results page.

What you get as your first thousand hits are the organizations who have paid to be in the results line-up or what Google has determined is best for you to read. We all know this. I just can’t get over that despite this public awareness, people still believe what Google tells them.

For the last few years, I’ve attempted to get students to at least use Googlescholar for projects and major research papers. Even this seems to be too much of a chore in a 300-level course. What general studies students are slowly realizing is that the libraries aren’t just for the medical and law students. They are becoming the only way to earn a grade above D in the higher-level courses. Sifting through the nonsense Google and Wikipedia spew out has actually become more time consuming for students and consumers alike, than learning how to use ProQuest and other databases at university online libraries such as Purdue University’s online library system.

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Photo: Robotic Book Retrieval System: Liberty University

While evaluating job candidates and employees’ social media has been common practice in the last five years, 10 or 15 years ago, people still believed their information was private, and posts and photos were forever deleted when the user deleted them. Even though we are finally holding congressional hearings with Google and Facebook questioning their silent take over of the online steering wheels, their manipulation of search results is far from new. Years ago, every text, snapchat photo or FB post was already being embedded in the CyberWorld.

I’m sure some of you have seen blatantly false information on highly professional looking websites. There will be little if any enforcement of cyber laws, even when a few are passed. The internet’s expanse far exceeds legal capabilities. Not to mention, the current technologies in Silicon Valley, in Seattle, etc., are years ahead of us.

Given a choice, most of us will still reach for a button before we reach for a book. Especially if that book requires a car ride. However, as a result of the utter discombobulation of internet research, people are frustrated when they really are attempting to locate “truth” or at minimum, historical data or current information that’s remotely accurate. Thus, maybe libraries can make a comeback – even if people choose online libraries, they will be more reliable than Wikipedia.

Wikipedia: “Wikipedia is a wiki, meaning anyone can edit almost any page…”

Wikipedia: “The goal of a Wikipedia article is to create a comprehensive and neutrally written summary of existing mainstream knowledge about a topic. Wikipedia does not publish original research.”

Click on images, links and red ink for sources. University of Dublin photos are my own.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Remote Work

Unless there is another extension here in New York, we’re expected to return to the physical premises of work on May 18th. While I have enjoyed many blessings during this time working from home, it will be good to return to the office. This is quite a statement because 1) I’m a Mama-domestic-type person at heart so I love all things home and family; and, 2) the small company I work for is an extremely stressful environment. I plan to leave in the near future.

Some things that I love are also on the hate list…just in a strange reversal in how I view these things!

See the source imageWhat I love about working from home…

  • Hands down, the best part of this bizarre historical time we have been chosen to live out is having a full nest. We all work together in the house, play so many card and board games, cook, bake and eat together like it’s been an extended Christmas vacation (where we also happen to be working). Ironically as I type this, it is snowing out my dining room window (yes, in May), so it really does continue to feel like Christmas vacation.
  • Working 20′ from the kitchen. I snack all day and drink as much water as I want without worrying who is noticing how many trips I make to the rest room!
  • Working the first hour or two in my pajamas, then switching to yoga pants and cozy, cotton tops.
  • No jewelry. No makeup. No hair coiffing.
  • No heels!
  • No nail polish.
  • The lack of a hard, set schedule.
  • The time I have saved by not primping myself, cleaning snow off my car and driving back and forth dealing with traffic is truly priceless.
  • The time I have saved by being able to avoid complainers has increased my productivity. At work, staff wander in and out of my office all day.

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What I hate about working from home…

  • I was one of the wiser ones at my place of employment who did not permit the owners to contact me after hours – until COVID. Now, the highly tense, always-anxious founders along with a variety of employees contact me not only throughout the work days, but at night and on the weekends. One of the Directors called me on Easter Sunday night!
  • I’m 20′ from the kitchen and I’ve gained 7 pounds. This truth has not stopped me from eating chocolate. Nor has the reality that in a week I need to be back in dress pants.
  • Most rooms have “the office” lingering from one or all of us. Papers, laptops, iPads, pens, notebooks and binders are ever-present throughout the house. We all tend to roam about, trying to get a different view during the day, then leave office remnants on tables and sofas. The decorative vases, photos and candles have all been removed or pushed aside throughout the house.
  • No defined schedule with a clearly marked beginning and end to work hours. I’ve worked more since shelter-in-place than I ever would at the office. The rest of my fam has it much easier with their employers and I thank God every day for that! (And that we have been blessed to remain employed-we are truly grateful.)

As we begin to find our way out of our homes, stepping into this new world, I’m likely not alone when I say that I’m happy to return to a few things from our former existence. At the top of my list is a boundary line between work and home. Yet, this time has also given most people a perspective that has changed us, even if only a little. For those of us still on this side of heaven, we’ve lived through something historic. Praise God.