2016-12-09

be prepared

This is the busy season. My boss left today to help with the birth of his first child, my office is preparing to move buildings, our work is in high gear as our users are mostly gone soon, and being the holiday season, our Christmas program concludes it's three week run this weekend with five exhibitions in the next two days. Oh, and possible travel to family, too.

This means I've got to be on my game, every day. It's not easy to anticipate what's coming, but the planned things mean I've got done opportunities to put together some things ahead of time. For instance, I know that playing my tubas is more difficult with a mustache, so that shaved away this morning. I know that moving things to the new office is going to be crazy, so I've started bringing personal effects home. Little things, but they reduce stress later.

Now if I can just make it to January I think it'll all be okay.

2016-12-08

start the day

I shouldn't say that I roll out of bed as it is much closer to bouncing, really. When the the alarm goes off or my eyes open, I'm just plain awake. Unlike my wife who will be a dreary state for an hour or more, I've generally hit the ground rolling unless I was ill. In the last year, this has caused some consternation within our relationship since we've been commuting together the majority of the time. While I adjusted my sleep schedule to wake about 75 minutes later than I had been, I still have found myself waiting barely patiently to depart each morning, while my wife has played with various degrees of rising earlier, but it just don't seem that she can find a way to consistently move her ready-to-go time. Thankfully this is one of the biggest challenges that we have in our marriage, at least as I see it.

Some mornings, despite attempting to sleep in later, my body just tells me that it's had enough of this horizontal position. These days are generally challenges to me because I'm not good at sitting around and doing nothing, and I don't have any hobbies I can easily engage for a brief period early in the day. Often this means I check news sites, sports scores, and similar things, or get industrious and pack a lunch for one or both of us. But usually as the minutes tick by, I edge toward irritability knowing that I'll sit in traffic longer, get less uninterrupted work done, and feel like I've literally wasted part of my day.

This morning was one of those days when my body was fed up with sleeping, despite staying up later than usual. My usual get-ready routine took all of its usual 11 minutes and then I found myself staring at the better part of an hour before she would be ready. I'm pretty sure I sighed. I gave the news sites a once-over, but skipped the sports because my team hadn't played the night before. I suddenly felt hungry, and decided that if I was going to eat, I might as well have coffee, too. Six minutes later a bowl of blueberry oatmeal and fresh Costa Rican coffee were sitting in front of me.

Earlier in the week I received a box of books courtesy of my parents (Christmas gifts and not quite Christmas, but I had permission!), so I reached over, grabbed the first in the series and started reading as I ate the oatmeal and sipped the coffee. Once breakfast was gone, I washed the dishes and migrated to my reading corner in the living room (that's what I call it although the only thing I've ready there before today was mail... once.).

When my wife was finally ready to leave, I was okay. I was nourished, my mind had been busy, and I didn't feel like I'd wasted my time or lost out on anything. Even the commute (for whatever reason the traffic felt lighter than usual) didn't get under my skin. It was a good start to the morning!

I don't believe that this was a fluke. I'm going to at least attempt to apply elements of this day to subsequent ones. I may not make oatmeal and coffee every day, but reading seems like the thing that made it all pleasurable because it wasn't required and it was for me. Perhaps this morning adjustment may improve the worst part of my day and marriage.

How cool would that be?

2016-12-07

be open

I'm not very good at sharing. It's not things that I have trouble sharing, but thoughts. I reflected on this earlier today after an encounter with one of the pastors from our church. I don't want to call this man a "nice guy" because that's so often been derogatory in meaning, but he genuinely is, and as part of his role with the church he reaches out to get to know people. We chatted over lunch sharing little bits of our lives and past with one another. It shouldn't have been a difficult experience, but it really was.

As I sat in my office this afternoon thinking over the experience, I started to dissect my thoughts and attempt to understand what was at the core causing me to feel inhibited about sharing. I realized quickly that it wasn't one or two or even a dozen things, but a protection mechanism built up after years and years. Growing up, I was always one of the outsiders, the kids that got picked on. I was fatter, shorter, and goofy looking, and it didn't help that I was in the smarter sect of my classes helping to set me apart as the trifecta: fat, ugly, nerdy. It doesn't take long for a ten year old to understand the social strata of the playground when these things are so strongly aligned.

To help cope with this innate malalignment, I developed a practice of staying quiet, and only speaking when I knew that I was saying exactly the right thing for the context of the group that I was in even if the words themselves weren't technically correct.  Of course, this meant I spent a lot more time in thought playing out scenarios of what I'd say, how various people would react or respond, and then what I'd have to do because of that... repeated ad nauseum. Suffice to say, I was pretty quiet in groups.

The thing I've come to realize is that I never really grew out of this method of operating, although I have managed to assert myself in certain professional situations, but there are still many where I feel uncomfortable not knowing the correct protocol or in an attempt to respect the idea of chain of command.

Sitting at a restaurant with a group from church? Probably only answering direct questions. Out at lunch with coworkers? Likely contributing only joking remarks. Rinse and repeat these into almost every social situation I can think of. But what is really interesting about this is that I want to be social, to have friends, and to be part of what's going on. Don't we all?

When I was pondering the encounter today with the pastor, I really did not volunteer anything without first being prompted. Part of me was excited that someone was interested in me and what I had to say, so I'm sure I seemed enthusiastic at times, but when the conversation would lull... my eyes would be down-cast and I'd focus on the lunch at hand. I don't think I know how to lead a conversation that isn't about a project at work!

How is it that I can become more open, and leave behind this childhood idea that everyone is constantly judging everything I say, do, and am? That seems really hard in today's world of everyone posting to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and whatever else is out there, and giving near-instant and public feedback. The competition for likes, thumbs up, and such is strong. Wait, no one liked that post? That must mean they dislike it! These networks are constantly begging their users to judge one another.

Granted, I'm not on any of these networks and don't share things so this is not how I go through my day, but I am around people that are and do. Seeing these actions makes me really wonder if these digital expressions are closer to our unfiltered thoughts. Do we, civilized western adults, actually judge each other as much in our heads as we do online? If I am honest, I believe many of us are probably filtering out the "bad" when it comes to these situations for fear of the judgement.

I'm still short, fat, and nerdy... and add to that the fact that I work in IT. Oh that last one is a tough one. So few people really care what you do when you're in IT unless it means you can fix their computer or give them access to things they shouldn't have. It's fun when my wife and I are introducing ourselves and we get to the "what do you do." She usually goes first and offers essentially her title, and then I say that I work in IT for the same company. Then one of two things happens: either they say "so you fix PCs" before turning back to my wife, or they turn back to my wife and ask for more details. I'm not salty about that, really.

I don't know how I move past where I am with this. I don't know how I become the person that I want to be that isn't trying to predict seventeen steps into a conversation and just engages naturally.Perhaps the first step to getting there is this realization that I had today. Perhaps the next step is remembering it tomorrow. And then baby steps? While I was typing this I realized something new. I am so afraid of social rejection I don't let myself be exposed. That's a whole other ball of wax to melt down another day.

2016-12-06

find my place

I've now been at my current job more than a year, and this is my third job since moving to the state.

The first job I had in the state (almost eleven years ago), everything was pretty clear-cut as there were only two of us supporting everything the company did. While the work was sometimes grueling, it really was a good place to work and there were some great people, many of whom I still hang out with today. I could imagine how I might still be at that job were it not for the economic depression that caused the company's dramatic constriction. But if I had stayed there, I wouldn't have learned a myriad of things which I have in the years that followed my employ there.

When I moved on from that position, I found position at a somewhat well-known retailer. I stayed with this company for around five years, and in that time held four distinct roles. The first was the hardest to acclimate to because I was both adjusting to the culture, and finding my place among some people that had already been working there for as many as two decades already. When I moved into my second role, I had a firm grasp of what I needed to do, who the players were in the organization, and what that meant for me. But I quickly realized that it wasn't a position I'd be happy in. When the manager of my first role asked me about moving over to his new team, it seemed like a great idea and allowed me to get back to the things that I had enjoyed doing: engineering solutions.

Under this manager and his replacement when he again transitioned, I worked in the last two positions at the company. There was a team of similar-skilled and tasked guys that I worked with in the first role, and we accomplished a diverse variety of projects. As fun as it was, I wasn't really growing professionally (despite merit increases telling me I was moving "forward). One of the team leads under the same manager recruited me over to his team, and this is where I got to grow the most in terms of new technologies. When I made this last transition, I brought some of the things I had built previously to the new team, but I also took on things that I'd never done before, and certainly not at the same scale. I really liked the guys I worked with. I enjoyed what I was doing, but working way too much.

And the culture was changing.

Although I didn't really let on that I was unhappy with the way things were going, I started interviewing for positions. I applied for about five positions, and had two interviews, one that turned into an offer. When I reviewed the details, I wasn't really happy with what I'd be doing and I felt it best to decline. Not having seen anything else worth applying for, I mostly resolved to just hold the course. But then I got a call about a position I'd apparently applied for, but it had been so long that I didn't even remember the details. Over the next two weeks I had two interviews and and offer and everything seemed like it was both logical and nearly ideal. I made the move to my current role.

So now I've been in this position for a bit more than a year. If I'm honest with myself, I don't always know how well I fit. I get things done as needed, but I feel confused about what my manager's expectations are for the group. Sometimes it seems that he wants us all to be able to do similar things, and at others that he really wants us to specialize in specific things. I've had some discussions with him about what I would like to do and where I'd like to take my career, but the three guys I work with have all been around the org for as long or longer than I've even been in the state. The dynamics aren't quite what I'd expected.

I'm still trying to find my place here. I want to contribute positively. I have introduced some processes and ideas, as well as some technologies, to help our team do our collective jobs more effectively. I like the guys I work with, and feel like we would get along well outside of the work environment, but because of our different places in life I've never actually interacted with a single one of them outside of a work context, and that is extremely different from my last job. I can't fault anyone but myself here, but when I overhear my team talking about getting together for various non-work things I feel sad because I'd like to be invited, I want to be more than just a coworker, I want to be a friend.

I'm not sure what I can do to change things within the group, maybe nothing. So then the question becomes: do I learn to accept it, or do I find something that is a better fit?

Over the course of the next several weeks, a lot of the technology groups within the organization are relocating into a newly-renovated office space (oddly enough designed by my first employer in the state). Perhaps as this confluence occurs, I'll find that the needed social circles may form and I'll find at least one relationship within this expanded group.

I can hope, at least.

2016-12-05

wait wait wait

I like shiny things. I don't mean that I like literally shiny things (although sometimes I do), but rather the figurative ones. You know, the latest and greatest. The newness. Especially when it comes to technology. But that can come at quite a price, sometimes financial, sometimes of my time.

Anyone that knows me moderately well is probably well aware that I have a love affair with cell phones. I don't use my cell phone for Facebook, Snapchat, or most of the other trendy things that the "kids" these days are all on about. Oh no, I use mine for three things: photos, information, and responsibility.

Oh snap. Photos. That's a given--and that's one of the major reasons that I've upgraded phones with the frequency I have. I've invested a lot of money in my photographic pursuits, but it's not always logistically possible to run around with my DSLR and a half dozen lenses. I can, however, nearly always have my cell phone.

Look it up. Movie reference? Recipe? Sports score? Procedure for rebuilding a RAID array on a decade-old obscure device? Yep--I can get my information through this device.

But responsibility? Yep! I get to stay on top of alerts for work so my systems stay up better, or come back online faster. I get to communicate with people waiting on responses. I get to... well, you get the picture.

And that brings me to the title of today's post: wait, wait, wait. This is the hard one, because I know there's new shiny out there. Today specifically it's the latest OS. I've mashed that "check for updates" button probably fifty times already and it's still not there. In the past when this happened, I've gone through the process of unlocking the device, loading up the update, and having to reconfigure the whole device just to get the newest features, many of which I might not even know exist were it not for release notes. Something that should take 5 minutes of my time ends up taking two hours as I re-download and login to my apps, set various settings just so, and tweak the layouts.

So this time I'm not gonna do that. I am going to wait. When that magical little icon pops up on my screen saying "Update is available," you know I'm gonna click it faster than Tesla in Ludarious mode. Or maybe I'll mash the buttons in moments of boredom, but at least I won't invest hours. This time.

2016-12-04

roll out cookie dough

For the last several years I've been participating in the Christmas program with the church that my wife and I attend. When we started doing this eight or so years ago it was what we thought pretty large with maybe 15-20 musicians and 120 singers. This year there's almost forty musicians and more than two hundred singers. Great things happen through, because of, and in the making of this program, and it is a really privilege to be part of the ensemble that reached out to the community every year.

For the first couple of years I sang because there was a need for tenors, and I lacked an instrument. After the third year, I felt a pulled to search for a tuba and just a few weeks before we started rehearsal for that season I came across a great instrument that was actually the same model I played through middle and high school, and it was well within what I could afford (which is amazing considering that tubas generally start around five or six thousand dollars and go up). Since then, I've been playing the tuba with the Christmas program, and have even managed to pick up a smaller travel-size tuba that really works well for practice and some of the more cramped venues as the number of people on stage increases.

So what does all of this have to do with rolling out cookie dough? Well, I'm almost there. After each program, our guests are invited out into the lobby area, hallways, or whatever else isn't the performance venue and are treated to refreshments, usually in the form of baked goods. Most of these are things that the choir and orchestra have prepared, but some people (I'd guess mainly the men) take the easy route and purchase pre-made cookies. But not me. Not once. Blood, sweat, and tears. Okay, none of those.

So this year the crew and orchestra were on the hook for the Marysville performance's refreshments. With a batch of cookie dough on hand, I decided that these needed to be cutouts, especially since I'm fairly certain we've never used any of the cookie cutters we own. At first, I thought I'd take the dough and roll it out on a silicone kitchen mat using a silicone rolling pin. That was laughable. The dough stuck to both as if it was peanut butter between two Ritz crackers.

But then I had a thought: for a couple of years I've been buying parchment paper made for full sheet pans and cutting it in half to line baking sheets, but what if I tried to roll out the dough between two of these? I took a lump of dough, pressed it out to a reasonable thickness and thought to myself, You've figured this out. Well, not quite. In fact, the dough had stuck to the parchment paper, too. Pondering a moment, I decided to see if I could peel it off of the paper much like one removes the backing of a sticker. After a few moments, one side of the paper was free and I could see the smooth, even dough pressed out. Since that had been such a success, I turned the whole thing over on the loose sheet of paper and peeled the back side off in exactly the same way.

As I worked through the dough that I had, I found that the second and third batches went even easier as there was residual oils left on the parchment paper that made the separation process even easier.

So next time that recipe tells me to flour a surface and roll out dough, I'm going to leave the flower where it is and reach for the parchment paper, saving myself at least twenty minutes cleaning the clouds of flour that would have otherwise covered everything.

2016-12-03

clean glass

You would think that being in my third decade of life I would have learned a thing or two about cleaning glass by now. Well, you'd be right, but there's one thing that has challenged me for the last eight years: shower doors.

Bring a reasonable adult, I've tried lots of things, some working better than others. For a long time my goto was the Scrubbing Bubbles foaming cleaner... Let it sit on wet glass, wipe off, rinse off, repeat two or three times, every week. Yuck.

Recently, however, I came across an alternate method that actually works really well, but I HATE it. But since it works I also can't go without. And it's easy.

• 1 cup white vinegar, heated in the microwave
• 1 cup blue Dawn
• Spray bottle

Mix up the ingredients gently and spray on. Let that sit about five minutes and wipe down with a clean towel. Rinse off. Wish that you'd done this years before. But the reason I said that I hate this solution is that I hate the smell of vinegar, even at room temperature (there's a story there that I'll probably tell another time).

Now if i could get my wife to help clean the showers, too.