Observations on the Working World

For the past year and a half, I have been impersonating a business woman at a large health insurance agency. Up before the sun, I would slog through the morning commute to put in my eight (or ten or twelve) hour workday. As of this week, I have joined the ranks of the unemployed again but have left my previous place of employment with both fond memories of friendly coworkers and mini-heart attacks of things that I have left undone. What follows are a few observations on Corporate America:

  • Life before computers was probably a lot easier. As a millennial, I’m not quite sure what it was like before, but it seems as if computers make life more complicated by providing an excuse to pile on even more work. Then, on the inevitable day (or days) when the computers are running slowly, smoke begins to pour from employees’ ears and a team sets out toward the IT department with pitchforks. Instead of a two-hour meeting where everyone gets together to crank projects out, the email train creeps into the hundreds until it feels like an episode of Lost where no one quite knows what is going on anymore.
  • Read receipts are a blessing and a curse. Having the setting on your computer that lets you know exactly when every email you send is read is a great way to keep tabs on whether your requests are being addressed. However, knowing someone has read your email and not responded can be incredibly frustrating. Then you have the awkward phone conversations where you say as sweetly as can be, “I sent you an email a couple of days ago. Did you receive it?” knowing fully well that they did and really wanting to say, “WHERE IS MY INFORMATION?!”
  • Elevator Etiquette. Not sure if this is a Texas thing or common knowledge from the male perspective, but there is a strange custom of holding elevator doors open for women and letting the women off the elevators first. This creates an interesting dance as the men who get on the elevator last jostle and rearrange themselves so that the women can get off first. I had to swallow smiles as I watched this show of chivalry being played out on a daily basis.
  • No one likes to talk on the phone. I thought that as an adult, one magically develops the ability to carry on extended conversations via the phone lines; however, it seems unanimous that emails or IMs are the way that most people communicate. The only time the phone is used is as a last measure. When you are calling someone or they are calling you, you know that something is late.

    Blog Pictures 010
    Being able to occasionally work from home was a nice feature.
  • The idea of an 8 am-5 pm job is totally antiquated. Emails come in on weekends, before 6 am, and after 9 pm. Sending out emails at 7:30 pm on a Friday night or 10 am on a Saturday morning and getting replies within twenty minutes is a terrifying thing. (Does anyone have lives outside of work anymore??) Of course, those instant replies are rather addictive and sadly don’t correspond to other types of emails one receives from non-work-related sources.
  • An “out of the office” reply means different things to different people. Some people are actually unavailable, but usually it just means that it might take someone an hour to reply rather than five minutes.
  • Letting employees leave early on the occasional Friday does more to foster loyalty and boost morale than just about anything else.
  • Spending over a year working with vendor partners and never actually knowing what they look like seems strange. Are they seventy-five or seventeen? Do they were Star Wars t-shirts or business suits? Of course, working with people spread out all over the United States allows the weather to be a continual topic of conversation.
  • Being surrounded by coworkers who are enduring the same stress, ranting about the same difficult situations and people, and who celebrate the successes of a job well done is the only way to make it through each new season.

I’m not sure what the next stage of my work life will entail, but I am thankful for the experiences that I had and the people I was able to meet during my time as a business woman in Corporate America.

Not Cut Out to Be a Choir Director

“Three miles to the world.”

That’s a catchphrase my church likes to use. You see, Dallas is one of the main hubs where the US government likes to dump refugees. People from places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Burma, Somalia,  and many other countries (some of which I’ve never heard of) find themselves in my illustrious Southern city. The government pays their way for six months, and then they are expected to have life figured out.

One of the opportunities that this allows me is the privilege of working with an African refugee church that meets at my church on Sunday afternoons. It is made up of refugees from Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda. Their services are taught in Kirundi, and the people sure know how to sing and dance and worship God! Even though I don’t speak the language of most of the adults, joy spills out no matter what language is being spoken.

Not your typical English praise song
Not your typical English praise song

Of course, since I’m typically the only white, English-speaking, American adult there and only come every other week, I don’t always know what is going on. This can create some interesting situations.

On this particular Sunday, the church was hosting a conference. Other African churches were meeting together, and each group had brought over their choirs to join in the festivities.

For the conference, I was told that the children’s choir was going to perform one of the English songs I had taught them. The song was a lovely repeat-after-me song, and I had purposely picked out half of the kids to lead the song and the other half to repeat. I arrived when I thought I was supposed to so I could practice with my kiddos, but something was lost in translation. I was given a “Glory Choir” T-shirt and rushed into the main auditorium. A quick whispered conversation let the kids know which song we were going to do, and I took my seat with a sense that everything would be fine.

As the service progressed, I began to wonder how I was going to pull this off. The children were going to sing a couple of songs in their native language, and then we were going to close with mine. Because of the hand motions and the lack of practicing, I figured that I would do what I’ve seen my choir directors do: I would simply go to the front of the room, kneel down facing the kids, and lead the song. That way they could watch me if they forgot anything.

Things didn’t go quite as planned.

As I waited, the kids who were supposed to start the song didn’t.

Their lovely artwork
Their lovely artwork

Perhaps if I start singing, they’ll join in, I thought to myself. Taking a deep breath, I burst forth into song.

Unfortunately, instead of joining in, all of the children decided to echo.

Now, I’ll pause right here and make this confession: I am not a singer. While I may be able to hold a tune in a limited range, I’ll make my mark on the musical world playing the piano way before I win American Idol. 

So, sitting on my knees, with about a 100 African refugees staring at the back of my head, I began belting out this song while flailing about doing hand motions, desperately hoping that the children would join me rather than repeat me. After the first verse, a very friendly African fellow hunkered down beside me with a microphone. He proceeded to hold the microphone for me while I continued waving my arms and singing slightly off-key for the remainder of the song.

I don’t know what the African refugees thought of the crazy girl teaching their children that day. I’m not sure if they understood why I was sitting perched in the front of the room with my back to them. Perhaps they wondered why I was waving my arms like a wild woman at their children. But at least they had no idea what the song was supposed to sound like in the first place so perhaps they’ll think it sounded like it was supposed to.

I didn’t get any compliments on my singing that day, but I’m chalking that up the to the fact that most of the adults don’t speak English.

Working with the African church is such a fun blessing! I never know quite what to expect!

Blog Pictures 005
The kids are always a lot of fun!

How to Meet Middle-Aged Men

Car shopping is an adventure. Not only does one get to see the plethora of cars on the market, but one gets to meet a variety of people. As my sister, Michelle, and I embark on our car buying expeditions, it’s always interesting to see what happens. After visiting over a dozen car dealerships, here are some of my observations:

1. Car salesmen are very opinionated. When we visited a variety of small used car dealerships, we were warned against buying cars off Craigslist. As everyone knows, private owners are all crooks selling dying cars or waiting to waylay and rob unsuspecting buyers. Of course, the larger dealerships warned us about buying from the “mom and pop” shops because as everyone knows, those guys fix up wrecks and just want to steal your money. Bigger dealerships are the only “reputable” sources for buying used cars.

2. Bigger dealerships offer more perks. Sure, you have to pay $2000 more for the same car that the small business has and $3000 more than the Craigslist individual, but hey, you get free car washes for life or a guarantee on the power train as long as you never have your car serviced anywhere else. Who could pass up those benefits?

A sampling of our collection.
A sampling of our collection.

3. Car salesmen don’t understand the difference between a “good deal” and a “good deal for Angela.” If I sold my clean, undamaged ’97 Lumina for $500 in Michigan, I am not going to pay $10,000  for a car that is falling apart on the inside and dinged up on the outside. I don’t care what Kelly Blue Book or the manager says is a good deal. Just because a gas guzzling SUV is a great deal doesn’t mean it is as valuable *to me* as the price tag claims.

4. Considering buying a car is like playing Deal or No Deal. After the test drive, the salesman leaves you in a big room and disappears behind the partition. Ten minutes go by, and he appears with an offer. You counter, and he disappears for another twenty minutes. What’s going on in the back is hard to say, but it sure takes a long time!

5. Salesmen rise to the occasion. When I step onto a dealership parking lot and share the size of my budget, I get funny looks. The salesmen blanch a little, putz around on their computer, and call up their manager. After ten minutes of waiting, they always find me something  to look at. We drive to the back corner of the farthest lot to see the single car that meets my requirements, but they always manage to accept the challenge I lay before them.

Car hunting is terrifying and yet thrilling. Not needing to buy a car immediately has been a help too. My sister and I have met some interesting characters and withstood some intense pressuring. Overall, the men have let us know they care by their numerous phone calls and fatherly talks. The phrase, “If you were my daughter…” is thrown around frequently. My new car is out there somewhere, and I’ve found quite a few nice people who are wanting and willing to help me find it.

DON’T READ YOUR BIBLE!

Don’t you hate it when you are moseying along, minding your own business, and suddenly, you are assailed with venom and force that are quite unreasonable? *sigh* Life just doesn’t seem fair.

The day was a brisk sunny one in April. (I actually have no memory of what time of year it was, but a sunny, warm April day sounds perfectly lovely right about now.) I had been traipsing around the house like I usually do–up one flight of stairs from my basement bedroom, up a second set of stairs to take a shower, down two flights of stairs to get dressed and make my bed, up a flight of stairs to eat breakfast. Nothing seemed amiss on this beautiful spring day.

The news got even better as I visited with the various members of my family who were also at home; a girl from our church needed a Bible. Looking around, we found the perfect one! It was one of those Bibles that is “grown up” in that it has all the words, but it is still “kid friendly” with a variety of pictures and colors on the pages. The Bible was one that I had used in elementary school, and I began to flip through it, remembering it fondly. I rounded the railing on the top of our stairs and started down.

I took one step. The colors and pictures of this book are so fascinating, I thought to myself. I flipped through the book and stopped in Ezekiel. Cherabim, I took another step. I remember this four-faced picture.

As I turned the page, suddenly, I found myself catapulting forward and downward. My foot had missed a stair, and the speed of my footsteps had propelled me forward. The Bible flew out of my hand as I grasped wildly for the railing, trying to stop my forward sprawl. It was no use.

I landed with a jolt in a perfect Tarzan position: my weight was perfectly balanced between my fingers and toes. Unfortunately, my toes were not too appreciative of 120 pounds landing directly on them from a four foot jump. As I tried to stand, shards of glass seemed to be embedded in my right big toe. We headed to the doctor, and sure enough, my poor toe had snapped under the strain.

I learned an important lesson that day. DON’T READ YOUR BIBLE…at least not while walking down the stairs!

A Most Unusual Wedding

My family is rather eccentric–especially when it comes to animals. From raising chicks in our kitchen, seeing kittens born in the middle of our living room, and delivering puppies in our laundry room, our homeschool family has brought many lives into this world. Of course, being the Christian family that we are, things had to be done in an orderly and proper way. Hence, we hosted the most unusual wedding.

bride

buddy

wedding

long

dog and dog

And the happy result of this union….

100_2502

 

 

The Most Perfect Egg in the World

Everyone knows how hard it is to remove the shell from a hard boiled egg. Usually, the shell sticks to the egg, and the unfortunate peeler has to lose chunk after chunk of protein to the garbage.

My sister had done it though; she had crafted the most perfect hard boiled egg in all the world. The egg was smooth, creamy, and unmarred. No shell pieces clung to the white underbelly of this egg.

“Look everyone!” she proudly proclaimed displaying the perfect specimen between her pointer finger and thumb.

As she stood with her back to the rest of the kitchen, she did not know that someone else had heard her announcement.

Suddenly, in a feat of speed, accuracy, and flexibility almost impossible to believe, our collie jumped through the air and caught the egg right from between my sister’s fingers. Like a tiger jumping through a hoop, the dog neatly snatched the morsel from the hand of her astonished master.Melanie

Sadly, my sister never got to enjoy her victory. The most perfect egg in the world was sitting in the stomach of a very contented canine.

Surviving the Power Outage Apocalypse

My family does not listen to weather reports.

When we heard about the epic ice storm that was about to descend on the northeast toward the end of December, we chose to ignore the weathermen. It was the week of Christmas, after all, and Mother Nature wouldn’t be cruel enough to wipe us on that week. Sure, power crews were being brought in from other states and other people were filling their bathtubs with extra water, but it was all exaggerated. People rushed to the stores like it was another Y2K. We were above such things.

About 6:02 AM on Sunday morning, December 21st, we lost power.

Now some of you will not understand the enormity of this occurrence. Not only did we loose phone connections, internet, and cable (which is bad enough the week of Christmas!), we lost heat, lights, and water. While losing lights would be a hardship, coupling that with the loss of heat and water, we were in a pickle.

The week started out on the right foot. But as each degree on the temperature gauge disappeared, a gloom began to settle. Christmas without cookies, old movies, or music didn’t seem like a Christmas well spent. The few lights powered by our generator were all that kept our spirits from deflating.

Four days later, it was 39 degrees. That is the temperature we woke up to on Christmas day. One knows it is cold when the refrigerator is warmer than the house, and you can see your breath inside. 

By Thursday, our poor generator was having the hiccups. Then convulsions. Our lights beganto do a strobe light routine. Something was wrong. As stories from neighbors about blown furnaces, busted wells, and fried electronics reached us, we decided having a few amenities wasn’t worth the long-range consequences.

Winter 2013 020

As the cold crept back into my extremities, I cracked. No longer could I endure the indignities of days     without cleanliness. The inability to be warm. The lack of entertainment. The staring at my dirty, long-   faced, bored family members. I began to pace. Then twitch. Then rant.

“Quick,” my sister, Michelle, said to me, seeing the signs of my looming nervous breakdown. “To my room.”

The pile of clothes on the floor and dresser, unmade bed, and remnants of wrapping paper did little to cheer my mood. I could feel the explosion boiling on the inside.

Michelle closed her bedroom door and stepped back. “Throw stuff,” she said. “And yell.”

I eyed her. What strange orders were these?

“It will make you feel better.”

And with that command, I picked up a pair of jeans. With a fiendish howl, I hurled them at her closet door. Five days of pent up frustration and angst erupted as I wrestled with sheets, beat up on the sweaters, and threw socks in all directions. Shouts and screams issued forth as I told the power outage exactly what I thought of it.

Two minutes later, Michelle’s room looked pretty much like it had previously, and I felt calm, cool, and collected once again.

Suddenly, the power clicked on.

I had survived the 2013 Power Outage Apocalypse.