Employment Evolution

At the New Year, people usually reflect on the past year. I’ll follow that well-trodden road with an emphasis on my employment situation, because this year and next year are shaping up to look so different as to be unrecognizable to one another.

This year saw me reach a tipping point with my Client Service Administrator (CSA) job at Kaizen Financial Advisors, a job I haven’t mentioned much due to compliance and confidentiality concerns. Remember that spectacular sunrise picture I’ve posted more than once?

Sunrise and Mt. Baker from San Juan Island

That morning, sitting quietly on the beach while a deer meandered by, I felt a strong sense that it was time to move on from serving as a CSA. Although I could complete the job tasks well enough, and I served my boss and our clients to the best of my ability, I never got excited about my work. I had the job not because I wanted to work in finance, but because four years ago, my boss offered a super-convenient work-from-home job that I thought would help me stay sane through all the diapers. And it has, so my thanks remain to the job for that.

Yet, this photo reminds me of that contemplative hour that, in some ways, led me eventually to my choices today. It’s when I started questioning our status quo, a tipping point.

Even though that’s when I started questioning whether I should stay at my job, I didn’t immediately give notice back then; I was too afraid of making big changes, and I felt loyal to the company and my boss. But in the intervening months, some personal things combined with a growing realization that I needed a change in my employment situation. I didn’t have any ideas what that might look like at the time, but by Thanksgiving, I knew something would have to change.

At the same time, back in September I went with Kaizen to a user group at Tamarac, a company whose software we’ve used for many years. Their software has dramatically improved in usability over the last couple years (and I’ve done more training, which helps), and using that software was a big part of my CSA job. During that user group, I arranged for us to get a tour of the company and meet our support team, some of whom we’ve worked with for years.

At that time, I found myself thinking how cool it would be to work in that environment. Their company culture seemed positive, and the people we met all seemed nice. I liked their vibe. I idly browsed their job listings, but didn’t see anything compelling — certainly nothing worth quitting my super-convenient work-from-home job in favor of a commute to the Columbia Center in downtown Seattle. But after that I occasionally would eyeball their local job listings to see if anything really compelling came up.

Meanwhile, I gave my notice at Kaizen, and had my last day yesterday, Friday, December 30. Earlier this week, I handed over all my home office supplies and my laptop, along with a big document describing how to do most of my tasks. It felt a little bit like graduating from college again — there’s no “homework” hanging over my head after four years! Hooray!

Last month, something really compelling at Tamarac did come up: a Technical Writer II position, the perfect blend of my previous writing experience and current financial experience. After some serious soul-searching and late-night conversations with Ian, we decided I should apply and see what happens.

What happened was that I got an interview last Friday, which (despite my still recovering from pneumonia) went swimmingly. I thought so, and apparently the hiring manager thought so, too, because he called last night with a job offer that had me bouncing with enthusiasm. I agreed without negotiation or hesitation. It will be at least two weeks before I can start, which is good, because that gives us some time to look into childcare options.

As those of you who know me well are aware, this is way, way, way outside my standard operating procedure. In our family, we act cautiously, with comprehensive planning ahead to cover every contingency, never making seriously big decisions quickly or without knowing as much as we can about how it would work out. But with this job, we don’t know what will happen for childcare and we don’t know about how my commute and being gone full-time would impact our daily life; but I do know this is a job I’m really, really excited about, for possibly the first time in my entire working career.

That, I will fight for. One, two free, here we go!

Christmas Giving – to Charity Results

Last month I mentioned that we were going to donate to charity rather than buy lots of Christmas gifts to people. This really just expands on a tradition in my family, where we’ve had a Christmas donation component for many years. The big difference was that this year, we didn’t buy anything for adults in the family. I wanted to share how it went.

The overall idea was wonderful. I know that I, personally, felt far less stressed out than usual at this time of year. With being super sick for part of that time, it was especially helpful not to be responsible for obtaining gifts for everyone. It also felt just way more fun and easy to hang out with our families, just appreciating each other and enjoying Benji’s excitement, with no stuff to get in the way.

The mechanics of it were a little less smooth, mostly because, again, I had many other things on my mind during the run-up to Christmas and I didn’t devote any bandwidth to helping coordinate or determine what exactly the logistics would look like. We did discuss a bit what charities to donate to before Christmas, and I know my in-laws made their donation based on that discussion. After Christmas, my parents asked to get together to talk about it, so we had some further discussion, mainly about what charities to support.

In the end, Ian and I split our donation four ways this year:

  • Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) – we started a small monthly contribution at Ian’s suggestion, because these guys work to protect digital rights, and it’s looking like that’s an area that’s ripe for abuses.
  • Southern Poverty Law Center – their mission statement says it all: “The Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.” Again, it’s looking like these areas are going to come under attack in the coming years, and we have a responsibility to make a stand.
  • National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) – basically ditto for the above reasons, only these guys work to protect the environment. They’ve been on our list of charities for many years, and we give a monthly recurring donation anyway. But we gave some extra this year, because the incoming administration doesn’t even believe in climate change.
  • Seattle Times Fund for the Needy – all the other charities we picked are big national advocacy groups. Seattle Times Fund for the Needy is hyper-local, supporting Seattle-area charities that work with “help local children, families and seniors in times of crisis.”

I think we’ll want to refine the process, but in general I felt like it went well and was much more what Christmas is meant to be about.

Pike Place Market 2016

Yesterday we did our annual Ferguson family Christmas trip to Pike Place Market to obtain fish, crab, and sausages for our Christmas seafood dinner. This year, we took a bus from South Kirkland and met the Fergusons at the Sheraton, where we always see the truly astonishing gingerbread houses. This year, there was a Hogwarts castle with moving staircases and a Number 12 Grimmold Place that slid open and closed. Benji didn’t really appreciate it (how could he?), but he did like recognizing the candy.

Then we walked to Pike Place Market and looked at things. Here Benji and I had to take the obligatory picture.
Katie & Benji at Pike Place Market 2016

That happened after we tried for a family selfie, with limited, though amusing, success.
Pike Place Market Family Selfie 2016

Normally on this trip, we’re sneakily buying stocking stuffers for family while trying to act all innocent, but since this year we did it after Christmas, that duty was removed. Instead, this time, Benji determined that the chocolate pasta tasted like old socks. And, after extensive taste-testing, we did buy dried bananas (Benji’s selection), Beecher’s cheese curds (ditto), Beecher’s 4-year aged cheddar (my selection), and some bread (Ian’s selection, for dinner). Most of the time Benji just wanted to find somewhere to sit to eat his snack.

We found a spot.
Snack Time at Pioneer Square

Actually, we found two spots.
Pike Place Market Snack Spot #2

Before that, Benji and cousin Jane (visiting from Pennsylvania with my sister- and brother-in-law) did the obligatory Pike Place pig visit.
Pike Place Market Pig 2016

It didn’t take much more than about an hour for Benji to start vociferously insisting that he had had enough and was REALLY ready to go back home. Happily for us, on the walk back to Westlake tunnel to catch our bus, we went by the Macy’s Christmas display. They have a Christmas train track that they set up in a corner window every year, which Benji enjoyed last year but liked even more this year, even though a couple of the trains had, disappointingly, derailed.
Macy's Christmas Trains 2016

One of the great things about taking a bus from Kirkland to Seattle is that many of the buses are articulated. All the 255 buses are, anyway, and that’s what we took. We sat in the articulation point both times, of course.
255 Bus Ride (tired)
Benji actually had much more fun than this picture would lead you to believe. We played a game where we tried to find every letter of the alphabet in signs around us, starting while we waited for the bus and finishing on the bus. I think we didn’t find a Q, but otherwise succeeded. Good thing the bus has lots of signs with “Exit” in them.

Benji walked the entire time, with no complaining; all those times walking to and from Woodmoor pay off at last! I was proud.

We all had very good naps that afternoon; I could tell I’m not recovered from pneumonia yet because any day I do stuff, I’m utterly wiped out afterward. But I’m clearly improving, because I CAN do stuff now! Anyway, we all woke up just in time to go back over to the Ferguson’s (argh — ‘s? s’? Help!) to eat all that lovely seafood. Benji, naturally, turned his nose up at all of it, to which we all said, “Good! More crab and salmon for us!” He did not, however, turn his nose up at playing with cousin Jane, with whom he spent a long time playing some kind of marble rolling game and another balloon-throwing game. Both excellent preschool play activities.

Not surprisingly, we all slept very, very well that night, too.

Except that I keep waking up at like 4:00 am wondering about the outcome of that interview I did on Friday…

Merry Christmas 2016

Merry Christmas to you all!
Christmas 2016

We can’t believe it’s the end of another year!
Joe-Katie-Mare Silly

I remain most grateful for the blessing of our immediate families, living so nearby and getting to take such an active part in our lives. I also am thankful for the opportunity to continue building meaningful friendships and to keep learning and growing as a wife, parent, friend, and person. Nothing’s perfect, but I’m thankful for what we have.

AND I am grateful for the opportunity to start riding my bike again, even if it was quite painful and slow. I’m not worrying as much about the usual metrics as figuring out a plan to build back up to where I was — and hopefully surpass it!

I just felt so happy out there, and when I got home — and then got to do it again today! I rode about 7500 miles this last year, with a goal of 8,000 miles; I got close, and I think I could’ve made it, had bacteria not intervened. But hey, there’s always next year, with whatever it holds.

Feeling Better

My blog posting tapered off this week because after about Monday, it seemed like the antibiotics really kicked in and I started feeling better. I still haven’t ridden my bike (I missed at least two days it was dry and above freezing — darn it!), but I’m hoping to try it on Saturday and see how much I’ve lost.

Fortunately or unfortunately, this recovery has coincided with my last full week at work, in which I’ve been trying hard to wrap things up as much as possible. I also spent a good amount of time documenting specific job duties and how to do them, hopefully to help the next person in my position.

And definitely fortunately, I am feeling better in time for a job interview tomorrow and then Christmas after that. Good thing I didn’t get sick a week later! After this week things are going to change substantially, one way or another… and with being so sick and then Christmas plus working so much I’ve not even had time to worry about it. Probably for the best, really.

I am looking forward to feeling back to 100% normal, although my doctor said it can be one to two months of recovery from pneumonia. That sounds like such a long time. In any case, I’m looking forward to being active again — a good sign that I am indeed recovering. I can tell that it’s going to be a long, hard recovery to get back to where I was. Yippie.

How Lumpy the Dragon Saved Christmas

As you remember from our first story, Lumpy the dragon and the boy became good friends after they saved the forest and village from a giant. This is a new story, about how Lumpy the Dragon saved Christmas in the boy’s village.

As summer turned to fall, and fall turned to winter, Lumpy the dragon got skinnier. Unlike most dragons, he subsisted primarily on nuts and berries, as well as fish and honey. Now, an adult dragon like Lumpy outweighs a grizzly bear several thousand pounds, even if they have the same diet. As everyone knows, bears have to spend most of their time foraging for food — and they sleep most of the winter. Lumpy did not hibernate, but he did get very hungry by the time spring came around, with its abundance of fresh berries and shoots.

The other dragons would mock Lumpy, dragging in hot, steamy, red meat dripping blood as they tore into it voraciously. They would sigh and groan and tell each other how delicious this cow tasted, and what a terrible shame it was that Lumpy wouldn’t enjoy it with them. Then they would laugh and take their sleek, well-fed selves off to go harass villagers or steal princesses while Lumpy just stayed curled up in his home, hungry.

At least, that’s how winter went for Lumpy every year before he and the boy became friends.

That winter, everything went very differently for Lumpy. For one thing, despite the fact that Lumpy was as clever as a dragon could be, and despite having lived many long years before meeting the boy, Lumpy had never saved food for winter until the boy suggested it. Dragons hoarded treasure, to be sure, but Lumpy abhorred such behavior, and the idea of saving had somehow gotten mixed up in his head with hoarding, as a bad thing. The boy, however, pointed out the difference: Lumpy wouldn’t steal his food from anyone, and he would use it all up before spring came. He needed that food to stay healthy. Other dragons hoarding treasure just used it to make glittering, fabulous, completely unnecessary beds in their homes.

So that year, Lumpy and the boy spent much of the late summer and autumn gathering and preserving food. The boy taught Lump about drying fruits, and introduced him to potatoes, which Lumpy loved to eat raw (by the time it reached his stomach, the potato had been fully cooked by his hot flames on the way down anyway). Lumpy had to build himself a larger home to hold all the food he stored up, even as the other dragons mocked him for being such a terrible dragon and hoarding the wrong stuff.

For another thing, Lumpy visited the boy in the village quite often during the winter. This helped the boy’s family, because every time he visited, Lumpy would curl around their entire house and warm it up quite substantially. The cows and pigs and sheep all overcame their fear of Lumpy, too, and gathered around in the shelter of his warm body. Lumpy told the boy fabulous tales of far-away places he had flown to as a young dragon, adventures and helped pass the long, cold days.

The villagers accepted Lumpy, at first grudgingly and fearfully, but with resignation, as the savior of their village and the castle. Eventually, however, they mostly became accustomed to Lumpy’s presence, all except a few particularly bad apples. These folks did not like Lumpy because his keen nose could smell when they had been up to mischief. They avoided Lumpy and assiduously kept their children away, warning their kids that Lumpy would eat them if they were naughty. (As you know, this was quite untrue: Lumpy wouldn’t eat meat under any circumstances. But he would take them to the King and Queen for a consequence, which might almost have been worse, from the miscreants’ perspective.)

Now, in the boy’s village, they had a special Christmas tradition. Each year, everyone would gather on the village green every Sunday in Advent and different families would bring different parts of a life-size Nativity scene. On the first Sunday of Advent, some families brought Mary, Jesus, the manger, a stable, and animals for the stable, all beautifully carved out of wood and painted to look very lifelike. On the second Sunday of Advent, other families brought shepherds and sheep. On the third Sunday, other families brought Wise Men and camels and gifts. On the fourth Sunday, other families brought angels and a big star. And on Christmas Eve night, one very special family would bring Baby Jesus to lay in the manger, after which everyone sang Christmas songs. Which family brought Baby Jesus changed each year, depending on which family had done something exceptional over the previous year.

Not surprisingly, the boy’s family received Baby Jesus for the village Nativity set that year. Baby Jesus came wrapped in a beautiful cloth, carefully cradled in a specially-made box. The boy’s family had never had Baby Jesus before, and great excitement ensued when they received Him into their safekeeping at the beginning of the Advent season. The boy’s brothers and sisters all looked, but didn’t touch, for fear of smudging Baby Jesus’ pristine clothes and paint; then Mother and Father put Him safely away under their bed until Christmas Eve.

One day, some very mean bad boys came up with a cruel idea. When Lumpy was not visiting, and while the boy and his family were all out doing chores away from home, the miscreants sneaked into the boy’s home and stole Baby Jesus out of his box. It wasn’t hard to find Him, as Mother and Father’s bed was about the only place with enough room to slide the Baby Jesus’ box beneath. They snatched Baby Jesus, but left his cloth and box so everything looked normal.

Then, laughing evilly to themselves, they dashed out of the house and straight into the woods. They ran deep into the woods, tossing Baby Jesus between one another like a football. Whenever they missed (which was often), Baby Jesus fell into the mud and duff of the forest floor. Sometimes he bonked into a tree trunk. Soon His beautiful paint was chipped and dirty.

When they tired of their game, the boys found a tall tree and climbed up it. They hid Baby Jesus in a hole a good long ways off the ground. Then they looped around, arriving back into the village a different way than they’d left, and pretended like everything was normal.

The boy and his family didn’t notice anything amiss for several weeks. Lumpy had come for a visit on the day before Christmas Eve when the boy carefully slid Baby Jesus’ box out to check on Him for the next day.

Imagine the boy’s surprise and dismay when he opened the box to see the wrapping cloth — but no Baby Jesus! At first, the boy was angry. He thought one of his littler brothers or sisters had illicitly taken Baby Jesus to play with. But after everyone searched the house and grounds, and in view of the tearful protestations of innocence from his siblings, the boy had to accept it: Baby Jesus was gone. His family had lost Him.

“There’s no time to make a new one,” Mother said sadly. “We will just have to admit what happened and apologize to the village.”

“We’ll never get Baby Jesus again!” the boy cried.

“Probably not,” Father agreed, “But what can we do? We need Baby Jesus tomorrow, and He’s gone.”

Full of sorrow and disappointment and anger, the boy dashed out to Lumpy and burst into tears. Lumpy quietly sat with him until his tears subsided. Finally, after a long time, the boy sniffled and wiped his nose on his sleeve.

“Why are you crying?” Lumpy asked.

“Because Baby Jesus is missing, and we need Him tomorrow!” the boy wailed. He started crying again. When he had finished again, Lumpy asked who Baby Jesus was, and why the boy needed Him. The boy explained about Christmas and Jesus being born, and the village’s Nativity tradition. “This is the first time my family has ever gotten to take care of Baby Jesus, and now we’ll never get to do it ever again. Everyone will be angry at us tomorrow. Christmas will be ruined,” the boy wailed.

“Perhaps I can help,” Lumpy suggested. “Bring me Baby Jesus’ box.” A small flicker of hope lit in the boy’s chest as he jumped up and ran inside. He suddenly remembered Lumpy’s amazingly good sense of smell. In a flash, he’d returned with the box and blanket.

Lumpy carefully smelled the box and blanket. He could smell many things: The boy, the boy’s family, their house, their animals, many other people smells, and mixed with those scents, the scent of excitement and anticipation and joy. But he also smelled something different: anxiety mixed in with one person smell. None of the other smells included anxiety. “I can smell who stole your Baby Jesus,” Lumpy told the boy.

“Who????” asked the boy, keenly.

“I don’t know, but I can find him,” Lumpy replied, standing up. The boy returned the box to his home, and he and Lumpy set off following the scent. It took them straight across the village to the home of a family of bad apples. These folk had avoided Lumpy from the beginning, hating and fearing him. The boy knocked firmly on their door while Lumpy waited just out of sight around the corner.

The mean boy opened the door and said, “Yeah? You come for a beating, loser?” He thumped his fist into his palm threateningly.

“No,” said the boy bravely, “I want Baby Jesus back. I know you took him.”

“What Baby Jesus? I don’t know about any Baby Jesus,” the bully boy lied. “And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll get out of here before I give you a good thumping.”

“No,” said the boy, again, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll tell me where Baby Jesus is.”

“Why should I?” the mean boy sneered.

“Because I brought my dragon,” the boy replied, and Lumpy rose up from around the corner, glaring and breathing a little smoke for effect. I won’t deny that, to this day, the boy cherishes the memory of the look on the bully’s face at that moment.

“Oh! Uh, I, I, uh –”

“Well?”

“Yes, I did take Baby Jesus,” the mean boy admitted. “Not just me, but we took him because we wanted you to look bad.”

“Where did you hide Him?”

“I don’t remember.” A little defiance crept back into the bully’s voice. Lumpy snarled, showing enormous, razor-sharp teeth. Because the bully hadn’t spent any time with Lumpy, he cowered back, fearful for his life.

“Where did you hide him?” the boy asked again, firmly.

“In the woods. We hid him in the woods. I promise.” This all came out in a rush, as the bully tried to slam the door. Lumpy’s claws, longer and bigger around than the boy’s legs, blocked the door open.

“Where in the woods?” the boy asked, as Lumpy pushed the door back open (gently, so as not to rip the door off its hinges or damage the home; because, even when threatening, Lumpy tried to remain considerate).

“I don’t remember.” Lumpy snarled again, this time breathing a little smoke, too. “Oh, wait, I think I know where we went into the woods, anyway. I don’t remember the exact tree, honest. It’s just a tree. I mean it’s up in a tree, a hole in a tree high up, but really, I don’t remember which one exactly…” The boy babbled as he led Lumpy and the boy to the spot in the woods where he and his buddies had entered. “It’s here, cross my heart, just don’t eat me, please.”

“Fine,” the boy said, “But don’t mess with us again.” The bully gratefully ran back to his house and refused to have anything to do with his bullying friends again. In fact, he became a reformed character and grew up into a perfectly decent person, although he and the boy never liked each other much even as adults.

“How will we find it in all these woods?” the boy asked. “There are a lot of trees with holes up high in them, and it’s getting late.” He glanced at the shadows, which had begun stretching long.

“Don’t worry, I can already smell their path,” Lumpy reassured him. “It won’t take long to find where they hid Him.” And, sure enough, it didn’t. Lumpy ended up following the smell of Baby Jesus, a smell that he remembered from the box, and which was quite unique in the woods. It only took them a little while of walking through the woods before Lumpy stopped. “This is the tree,” he said. He didn’t even have to stretch his neck to see the hole where the boys had unceremoniously shoved the bedraggled Baby Jesus.

Reaching in with his clever claws, Lumpy tried to extract Baby Jesus, but the fit was too tight. Not wanting to damage the statue, Lumpy instead carefully lifted the boy up. In a moment, the boy slipped Baby Jesus out and clasped him closely to his chest, careful not to drop him.

By now, despite how quickly they found the hiding place, night had fallen. Lumpy gave the boy a ride home, and they arrived just as Mother lit the candles.

You can imagine the joy in the boy’s home as he and Lumpy arrived back with Baby Jesus. Much to-do was made over Lumpy and the boy, and each received a special sweet roll in reward. The next day, on Christmas Eve, the whole family spent the entire day cleaning and repainting Baby Jesus to look His most beautiful ever.

And that night, the boy’s family proudly carried a resplendent Baby Jesus to the manger in their village square Nativity set, walking down the aisle of their fellow villagers in the glittering torchlight. Lumpy lay carefully at the edge of the green, watching and listening as everyone sang Silent Night and Away in a Manger and all the best old Christmas songs.

And that is how Lumpy and the boy saved Christmas in their village.

Grateful for My Immune System

Mountain Sketch 2
I often come back to mountains and sunrises — around here, mountains almost always frame the rising sun. New days, new hopes, new beginnings; grace, hope, renewal; all these come together when I see mountains lit afresh by the sun. Wintertime can bring some of the most staggeringly beautiful days, with snow in the mountains and skies washed clean.

Okay, so my skills as a digital artist don’t exactly reflect the glory I’m describing. Don’t worry, I don’t plan on making it my day job… But it does mean I’m able to stay vertical and semi-thinking long enough to do something. Which is progress! Also probably signs of improvement are my noticing and starting to feel alarmed about the fact that suddenly we’re barely a week from Christmas, and I have a ton left to do. I guess I had planned on doing it the last couple weeks, when instead I just subsisted.

I’m also noticing and caring about the state of my house, which reflects the fact that we’ve shifted into mere survival mode the last couple weeks.

And, finally, I feel sad that I can’t go for a bike ride today. Still no expectation that I would, or should, because I can’t go outside and breathe without severe, relentless coughing, and Benji is still stronger and faster than me. Plus I can’t imagine that long exposure to 30-degree temperatures and vigorous physical demands will help with recovering.

Speaking of recovery, I cannot believe how Kryptonite-y phenumonia is. It really does suck all my strength. I’ve lost almost 10 lbs in the last 10 days, and let me tell you, it isn’t mostly fat (darn it! I worked hard!…and I guess I will work hard some more). I’m starting to understand that there won’t be some day when I bounce back and feel normal, and everything will go back to how it was. No; I’m going to actually spend time recovering.

I haven’t had a disease that required actual recovery in a long time. Again, I feel so grateful that my regular life doesn’t involve that kind of deep, debilitating illness that trashes all my plans, strains my relationships, and throws “normal” out the window. These last couple weeks (and the next few weeks of recovery, too, I imagine) have helped me remember and appreciate the most basic blessing of all: health. The expectation of waking up in the morning able to function, participate in life, and contribute to my family and coworkers is a blessing I take for granted every day. But for now, at least for a while, I’ll remember to stay grateful for even that simple, fundamental thing.

I’ll leave you with a sunrise photo I took, which may do a little better than my doodle at expressing why I love sunrise over the Cascade mountains.
Sunrise and Mt. Baker from San Juan Island