Last Day of Work...

Friday, August 22, 2008

I've worked at the same IT company for 12+ years! I never thought I would stay anywhere for so long. I still remember when I went to Cambridge for my interview--they asked me what I saw myself doing 10 years from then, and what my goals where. I replied, "I don't know. I always just worked somewhere as long as I like it, then when I don't like it anymore, I find something else." Since James was going to grad school, I told them I expected to work there four years.

I did stay there four years, but when it came time to move, I didn't end up leaving the company. My hiring manager, Peter, had a fit when he found out I was planning to accept a job at MasterCard and he found me an internal job in St Louis. I remember having a phone interview, but I also remember the manager, Jacques, telling me he was going to hire me (during the interview!), so it was really a formality. I also remember Jacques asking would I working from home, as St Louis only had a mobility center?

For the past 8 years, I've been a mobile employee--the greatest blessing for a working mom, but a curse of its own making. I could fold laundry during team meetings and load the dishwasher while talking with a coworker. I could change a diaper between instant message chats. I could cook dinner and not sign off while I waited for someone in Asia to start their day and get updates from them. The flexibility to work at all hours sometimes meant I was finishing up work at 2 am. Our house is so small that the living room sofa has been my office, which meant that my Thinkpad would beckon me to log on and check email when I came home from the movies, or just before going to bed, which would crept into an extra hour or two online. My work-life balance was out of whack, and I was largely to blame. I would lie awake at night, unable to shut off work. I drew a line with the Blackberry; I couldn't avoid my cell phone and laptop so I knew with the Blackberry things would only be worse.

As my girls got older, they started to resent my job, particularly business trips. They learned about my telephone and headset and that it was useless to try and talk to me if I was typing or on the phone. They asked why other mommies watched their children at gymnastics and ballet lessons while they had a nanny and later attended full-day preschool, and I didn't have a good answer for them. I tried to explain how some other mommies have to work in an office all day, and they are lucky to have a mom that gets to be home with them (when she isn't leaving on an airplane to go on business trips). I don't think they felt very lucky.

When we learned that James was hired at SIUC last April, I knew this move and the resulting changes in our lifestyle over the next year would be too much for me to juggle with the load I already carry. The thought of leaving my 12 years of seniority (and the 5 weeks off each year) was daunting. I realistically need only 1 or 2 years off, and I don't want to start over here, or anywhere, but I thought I'd have to quit anyway. I was wrong.

I learned that my company has a personal leave of absence option. Several of my friends explained the process to me, and encouraged me to take this option. Basically, I take a period of unpaid time off from work, then when it's time to come back, I look for a new job inside the company and continue where I left off. I get to keep my email address and my intranet access, so I don't have to be completely out of the industry and anyone hiring me gets the benefits of an internal hire, rather than having to get approval to hire outside the company. I even get my health benefits while I'm out.

I explained to my kids about my not working after we move, and Doodle's response was "Then why are we going to kindergarten? We can just stay home with you!"

Fast forward to the title of this post. This was the big, last day before I take a week of vacation (yeah right--packing to move is NOT vacation), and slip off into the sunset. I thought about just going on leave without any announcement--so much easier than explaining why I'm leaving. I put a little post on our internal team blog, and then decided I should at least write a semi-personal "so long", just to my closer work friends so they don't wonder what's up when they get an out-of-office response to their emails. I started thinking of who needs a notice, and 63 names later, sent out the post. I'm sure I managed to forget someone.

Today has been a very emotional day--so many positive wishes from friends and coworkers. I even cried a little. This is a big, scary step for me, but I know it's the right decision, and I'm so grateful to have this option. I can take a year to be a good mom/wife and get my family in a good place. Plus, I'll have the luxury of taking the time to figure out what I really want to be when I "grow up", rather than just taking the next open position or flitting to the next project because I can do it. Then I'll come back a much happier, and productive employee.

Things are better...

Fred read our ultimatum about the septic tank, and decided that if we give him the storage shed in the yard, he would pay the balance of the cost to replace the system.

Dee found out that James was living in a campground and kindly offered him a free place to stay in a rental house she's rehabbing (just in time as it's rained the past 3 days).

Things are moving along. We won't be homeless except for the one night I booked at the Hampton Inn.

I'm feeling much better now.

Our Septic System, a.k.a. The Pit of Disrepair

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I keep reminding myself; I'm excited for our upcoming move. Really. Just 15 days to go. Unfortunately, the stresses of work, broken foot, single parenthood (James has started working; he's living in a tent at a campground outside Carbondale and comes home on weekends), selling this home, packing, getting the kids ready for school in Carbondale, moving, and buying the new home are starting to wear on me. Amazingly, today was the first time I've been truly angry (okay, the second if you count PAH), and so far I've managed to not lose my temper.

Our realtor, Dee, has been great. This is our first full-blown homebuying/selling at the same time experience. (We rented our current home before we bought it from the landlord--so easy!) She was very reserved while we were shopping, but once we made an offer on this house, she has driven the whole process and we just couldn't have made it this far without her.

One new aspect of our impending rural life is having a septic tank, since we won't be living in an incorporated town, with a sewer system. No big deal, I thought. I was wrong.

We paid $175 for the Jackson County Health Department to do a septic inspection. Unfortunately, the system flunked completely. The septic system is 30 years old; not only did it fail the inspection, but we learned that this system was sized for a 4 bedroom house. It was even repaired to make it smaller than the standard 4 bedroom system. The home we offered money on was listed as a 6 bedroom house. The seller, Fred, had to have been stunned, as he built this house himself, and has kept it in very good condition. He's been living alone in the home, so one guy isn't going to tax the system to the extent that a family of 5 will. (As part of this whole buying/selling game, the owners and sellers don't talk to each other directly--we go through our realtors. It's silly, but I guess it keeps us from calling one another nasty names in person.) Of course, our lender won't let us buy a home where the septic has failed, so this has to be addressed before we can close on the house.

After some thinking and discussion, we realized we want a new system. We don't want to inherit an undersized, 30-year-old system that has been repaired, only to have the headache and expense of replacing it next time it fails.

The next stage of the game was waiting to hear what Fred was going to do about the septic system. Dee spoke to Fred's realtor, Lyn, and we learned that Fred planned to just repair the old system. He had recently spent $500 to fix the septic system, but he used an unlicensed contractor who had done sub-standard work. Dee said that we want a new system to comply with a 5 bedroom house (a compromise on our part, but we felt badly about the septic failing), and she reminded Lyn that this house was listed as a 6 bedroom house. "Well, a 4-6 bedroom house," Lyn replied. "No, a 6 bedroom house. We owe it to these buyers to deliver what was advertised" Dee answered.

In the meantime, we waited for estimates for the repair and replace options. The estimate we received for a 5 bedroom compliant system was $4875. We wrote a letter, rejecting Fred's repair offer, and countered that we want a new septic system that is the correct size. We even offered to pay $2500 of the replacement cost, to try and soften the blow.

Today we received two frustrating pieces of news. First, the estimate was incomplete--it didn't include removing and disposing of the old septic system (like we want to have that sitting around) or filling in the old hole (we don't want a giant hole in our yard--we already have one pond!). Dee asked what the full cost would be, and got another incomplete estimate of $5585; doing the math, we think it's going to be ~$6000. Second, Fred countered that he would only spend up to $2500 towards replacing the septic system.

We have to have this septic disaster fixed within two weeks, and during good weather (of course the forecast is 4 days of rain starting on Thursday), and we're wrangling over dollar amounts for something that is the seller's responsibility to begin with!

James and I wrote our last letter to Fred this afternoon. $2500 is our final offer, to get us a new, 5-bedroom-compliant septic system. In the letter, we asked him to let us know soon if he rejects this, as we will need to go home shopping again. It's scary to think that we may be homeless in two weeks. If we don't close on 9/3, our loan approval is invalid and we'll have to apply again for a loan. It's also sickening to think of the money we will have wasted on a house we didn't buy.

As for Fred, his septic system will still have failed; he'll have to fix it/replace it before he can put it on the market, AND he will have to (if he's ethical) relist the house as a 4 bedroom property, which will significantly lower the market value. His home has been on the market since March 1st, and he's had it off the market for a month while we've tried to buy the place. He has already built himself a new home, so right now he's paying two mortgages. Talk about a lose-lose situation if this septic system breaks our agreement.

The Pyscho Appraiser from Hades

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ok, the psycho appraiser really lives in Marion, but he acts like he's from Hades...

One of the gazillion things that goes into buying a home is that it needs to be appraised so the lender knows the house is worth the amount they're loaning you (go figure).

We had the new house in Makanda appraised last week, and expect to hear the results today. So we were suprized to get a phone call at 7:20 am yesterday from an appraiser asking us how he could get into the house to appraise it. James told him he needed to call our realtor, (I'll call her Dee)--it's not like we have a key, and we live 2 hours away.

Later, Dee called to tell me we had a problem. It turns out that appraiser was not the one who appraised ths house last week, but a second one. Since each appraisal costs upwards of $300 and we have to pay for this, we certainly don't want to get another bill.

The first thing I did was call my lender, to see if they had ordered this second appraisal. They said no, that the first one was complete and was due tomorrow (now today).

Then, I used caller ID to call the appraiser directly (I'll call him PAH since"Pscyho Appraiser from Hades" and Mephistopheles take too long to type). What a rude shock. I identified myself as the home buyer and asked why he was trying to appraise the house, also telling him that our lender had not ordered a second appraisal. In short, he told me that there was nothing I could do about it, to not "take it personal", but he had an order and was going to appraise it, and I would pay for it regardless. "That's life." he told me.

He shouldn't have told me there was nothing I could do about it.

I called Dee again, and found out this appraiser has a history of causing problems for realtors in the area (in fact, he was the only realtor Dee specifically didn't want to deal with, and we had asked our lender to not use him. Regardless of the agreed on selling price, PAH wants to make a statement, and always assesses the home value as $15K less. This often creates problems in securing a loan on the house. He has a personal quest to lower the "inflated" property values in Carbondale.

I wasted a good portion of the day, hearing from Dee that PAH was repeatedly calling her and the seller's agent to get into the house. The seller's agent actually went to the house and removed the lock box so he couldn't get into the house, and all of Dee's agency were under strict orders to not give him a key to the place. PAH even phoned later that afternoon and pretended to be a buyer who wanted to tour the house (he fessed up when Dee told him it was under contract and not open for showings) while I tried to reach my lender to find out exactly what was going on, and to make sure I wasn't going to pay for a second appraisal.

Finally, the lender called me back. It turns out PAH had originally won the bid to assess our house, but when our loan agent found out about his history, she canceled his order and gave it to a different assesssor (this was back on 8/4). Why he had waited this long after the canceled order to try and assess the house is a mystery. I told the loan agent about his attitude with me, and how he was trying to trick my agent into letting him in, she said she was going to make sure he would never get any business from their company again. She wrote an email and told me that he had been contacted and told to stop.

I guess there was something I could do after all.

Relearning How to Walk

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Yesterday, I visited the doctor to have the purple cast removed. Unfortunately, the broken bone STILL hasn't healed, so I have ANOTHER six weeks in a walking boot.

This time, the nurse who removed my cast, actually managed to cut my skin! I told her it felt like the cutter was cutting me, and she stopped, but told me the cutter couldn't cut skin and not to worry. When she pried the cast apart, we discovered an inch-long razor-thin line on my calf. It stings about like a paper cut. She felt so bad, but I think more than anything, she was afraid that Bones would notice it. (I think he intimidates her too.) She said he'd give her a lot of grief if he found out. I told her he wasn't even going to be looking at my calf. I was right--he never noticed, and the nurse was so grateful that I didn't tell him.

I'll spare you the icky photo I took of my two feet together, but let me say that I simply don't recognize my broken foot anymore. I can't believe that it's possible for a foot to be both shrunken and swollen at the same time, but that's what has happened.

Now that I have the walking boot or Aircast, (here it is, looking like an off-color Stormtrooper boot) I'm supposed to begin walking. Problem is, after six weeks of not walking, I can't manage to let myself put any weight on the broken foot. I get all strapped up, and I can trust myself to stand on both feet, but as soon as I go to take a real step and put significant weight on the broken foot, I freeze up. My mind just won't let me walk and I end up doing a modified step-hop. As a compromise, I'm still using the crutches to hold half of my weight and "walking" while I crutch around. Eventually I'll get over this aversion, but especially knowing the bone is still fractured, I just can't bear it yet.

Another problem I have is the height of the walking boot sole. At the doctor's office, Bones said that ordinary sneakers would be fine, but that it's important for the heels to be the same height to avoid messing up my walking gait. Unfortunately, going through my closet, I've discovered that nothing is the right height. I have 3 pairs of sneakers--all are too low. I'm not about to try and wear heels, and my flip-flops won't work either. My sister, Karen, had a walking cast last winter, and she recommends Dansko clogs. (Clumsiness runs in my family--we have a total of 8 broken bones among us, although I have the others beat as this is my 3rd fracture.) Guess I get to go shoe shopping, but it's a bummer that it will have to be for "sensible" shoes.

First in Google

Friday, August 8, 2008

I'm so excited--I just learned that Googling myself (it sounds obscene doesn't it?), finally lists this blog first!

It used to be that searching for my name gave a bunch of boring technical papers and presentations I gave for work. More recently, my Facebook profile came first.

Seeing this new change, I feel like my blog has finally "arrived". I heart Google. I don't understand the algorithms it uses, but it sure is smart.

Elec-Trak and the Mystery of the Missing Mail Box

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

We're getting very excited about our upcoming move (just 28 more days), making all kinds of crazy plans for our new digs. My tree-hugging husband bought a non-working, 30 year old electric tractor off ebay (he's really sad that our current rechargeable electric mower can't handle 2 acres, and can't bear to go back to a gas-guzzling mover), so I guess I know what he'll be doing all winter--hanging out in the barn, pretending to fix his toy, and shopping online for the add-ons that go with it..

Here it is on the left. I can't wait til it
runs, and I hope it doesn't give anyone tetanus in the meantime.

During our visits to the new place, I haven't found a mailbox--anywhere. No house numbers either. Perhaps the current owner has always used a PO box, but I needed to know if I could actually forward mail to the new address and put up a mailbox, or if not, I need to rent a PO Box so I can start the process of forwarding, etc.

I called the Makanda Post Office this morning, and explained that I'm moving to Makanda, to a house that doesn't currently have a mailbox. The woman on the other end of the phone asked "Where are you moving?" I gave her the address and she said, "Oh, Fred's house. I think he does have a mailbox, you probably just couldn't find it."

I thought, how could I have missed the mailbox--was it hiding in the grass, or in the trees somewhere? In the meantime, she was talking with someone at the post office, and she said, "Here, let me give you to the mail carrier for that route; he can explain." Wow. I call a phone number for a government building, immediately get a live person on the other end (no automated menu), who knows not only where I'm talking about, but the person who lives there, AND I get to talk to the mail carrier directly?

Then the mail carrier explained that the mailbox for our house is around the corner and down the street. "It's the one on the furthest left," he said. "If you go there, you'll be able to find it; it's labeled. If you want to move your mailbox to the street in front of your house, you can do that, but then you'll have to call the Carbondale post office and tell them to start delivering your mail, as your side of the street is a Carbondale rural route."

This is so strange--apparently we get to choose which town and which ZIP code to deliver our mail. The spot the mailman described is only about 50 feet from our driveway, so I think we'll survive the walk. Still, I'm entertained that we're moving to an area where everyone knows one another.

If you want something done right, ask a nurse

Monday, August 4, 2008

A week ago, I told you the saga of my STD. First, here's the way NOT to get things fixed.

I called Bones's office and asked for him to call me back. 3 hours later he did and his answer was "I filled out the report according to my assessment of your injuries; it's not my problem if your employer decided you have to take disability."

When I talked with my manager, Pablo, he obviously didn't like this answer. He reminded me that going on disability means that the work I've done for the past month won't be able to officially count, meaning I will not get any quarterly bonus. He said I need to have Bones revise the report, and he acted skeptical that a doctor wouldn't want to fill out more paperwork. I really wanted to invite him to talk to Bones himself, but decided against it.

After that, I called the Employee Services Center nurse (the one who wrote me the letter about my STD :-) ), who assured me that this kind of mess happens all the time. If it happens all the time, that doesn't reassure me; it tells me there is a problem with the process. She advised me to go back and this time, talk to Bones's nurse--she could write up a note detailing that I'm okay to do basic office work, just no business-related travel. Then all Bones has to do is sign it.

Feeling very sneaky, I called the office back, and this time I asked to talk to the nurse. I explained the predicament to her, and feeling much less intimidated, asked if she could write up the letter, have Bones sign it and then fax it to corporate. She kindly agreed.

I haven't heard back from corporate, but it looks like my "recovery" is well underway.

UPDATE ON 8/5: I just got another note from corporate--apparently the note did NOT work. Now I have the worst of both scenarios--I am on STD until today, meaning my work for the past month didn't count AND I'm expected to be working from here on out. Of course both the doctor's office and the Employee Services Center are closed, so this will AGAIN have to wait until tomorrow.

UPDATE ON 8/6: I wrote a note to the corporate nurse, saying I have been working for the past month, so obviously I never took the STD that this letter indicates. The new end date seems completely arbitrary, since I still have a cast on my foot. Surely there's some way we can fix this on our end, rather than depend on a doctor who is uncooperative and doesn't know what to write to satisfy the small modification I need for work.

This morning I logged in to find a reply: "I have made a notation in your file indicating you have been working at home w/approval from management. Your case is closed."