My first job(s), or, I owe my soul to the company store

Not really. But this song my father used to play came to mind as I was thinking about this post.

Last night as I was negotiating snow and ice to enter the Harris Fine Arts Center on BYU campus I passed a girl shoveling snow on the steps of one of the lower entries. I offered a few encouraging words and recalled how over 30 years ago I found myself applying for a job at BYU as an “on-call snow remover.” When I went in for the interview I was told, “We’ve never hired a girl for this position before.” I shrugged and explained that I was a hard worker and I actually enjoyed shoveling snow (which was a little naive of me, having grown up in the Pacific Northwest I could probably count on one hand the times I had shoveled snow. I had more experience shoveling manure). Having worked along side men and boys my entire life, it never even occurred to me that shoveling snow was a “boys’ job.”

I got the job and was pretty excited when I got the first call at some unearthly hour in the morning. This was long before snow blowers and four wheelers with snow plows on them and clearing the walks at BYU campus was an enormous task. Here’s the thing. It was clear from what I saw last night that even with the toys and the tools, removing snow from BYU campus is still a lot of hard work!

The work was fun, but not steady, and a couple of months later I broke my ankle running in the snow and realized it was time to look for something else to help me put myself through school.

The next job I applied for was as a custodian at the Harris Fine Arts Center (now you see why that brief moment last night brought the memories pouring in). At 4:00 in the morning. I was a freshman adjusting to managing school work and a social life for the very first time and also living in the dorms, which are not so conducive to sleep or study. I meant to go to bed at 9:00pm so I could wake up at 3:30am, but it didn’t always happen. Still, I enjoyed the work (the people at the Harris Fine Arts Center are civilized!) and I enjoyed my coworkers (I have a history of enjoying my coworkers) and I also learned you can sweep while sleepwalking, because one time–fortunately only once–I found myself with the broom to the wall of a room I had no recollection of sweeping across.

Eventually I decided to look for something with more suitable hours. I applied at the BYU Bookstore. Along with over 35 other applicants for one position. I still remember that interview with my eventual supervisor, whose name was Afton. Do you know what landed me that job? My first job. Five plus summers as a teenager working 40 hours a week hoeing weeks in bean and mint fields under the hot sun. Afton was more interested in that job than the additional years I’d spent working nearly full-time at a local pizza parlor, at times during the same summers I was working out in the fields. She looked me in the eye and told me how the years I’d spend doing that job told her I knew how to work. She gave me a shot, and I ran with it.

I worked at the BYU Bookstore until I graduated from BYU, taking an 18-month hiatus to serve a mission in France and Belgium for my church. I started out in gift wrap, which, if you knew me, might amuse you. I am a careless gift wrapper now, but at the time, I could fold and tuck corners in with precision and I was not sloppy with the tape. Eventually I was cashier, or checker as we were called then, before I made my way down to the sports department, where I remained. Have you ever purchased a BYU t-shirt or hoodie in one of those nice little shops during a football game at the stadium? I was in charge of organizing and running those back in the day we inventoried and packed up the BYU gear by hand and brought it to the stadium in big cardboard boxes and had to figure the tax into the cost and ring everything up, add totals and count change back by hand. Those were the days.

Ashton was right. You learn something from every job. And you take that something with you to your next job, where you can learn something more. And your next job. And your next job. And you can take those things that you learn and build on them your entire life.

For that and for all my jobs, I am immensely grateful.

You CAN fight city hall

moneyhoney

Last fall while my mother and my mother-in-law were both undergoing cancer treatments and I was working like crazy at my former company to integrate acquired accounts after the partial buy-out of another company, things fell apart at home. I was relieved that most of my bills were paid online because the last thing I was thinking about was the incoming mail, most of which is junk. So it wasn’t until three days after the deadline to appeal that I took a minute to look at my property taxes and realized that the county had assessed some $25,000 of “improvements” onto the value of my home and that my taxes went up over 33%. While I wish we had been able to afford $25,000 of improvements on our aging home, the tax increase hit us hard and completely ate up the savings we’d just established on our mortgage after a refi just months before. It hit us doubly hard when I realized that the automatic payments I had set up through my bank were not adequate, which I didn’t realize until we were assessed a whole mess of late fees because instead of at least making partial payments towards our mortgage with the inadequate payments, the mortgage company just kept shuffling our mortgage payments into a separate fund for “undetermined funds.” Whatever.

I tried to appeal anyway was was met with a goose chase and no sympathy from the county assessors office. I thought about all the people who are arbitrarily hit with similarly unjustified tax increases but don’t know how to fight back. I thought how the government should have to justify such unjustified tax increases rather than putting the burden of proof on the homeowner. And I contacted my state senator, who, though we no longer see eye to eye politically, has always been respectful and responsive. She gave me an email of a VIP at the county and I emailed him. No response. I emailed him again. No response. I emailed him a third time. No response.

Figuring I just had to hold my peace until I could fight city hall, or, as it were, the county assessor, I coughed up the hundreds of extra dollars and waited until this fall. At which time I contacted a friend of mine who is in the know about these things and had her do some comps for me. And I took my appeal to the county. I noticed upon second look that an adjustment had been made, so the VIP must have at least received and acted upon my emails even though he never bothered to respond. But the adjustment was not entirely adequate and I figured the county had robbed me of a good $400+ last year, so I did not want to give them another extra penny.

The significance of the county’s response, another adjustment lowering my property value to the amount determined by the comps, wasn’t fully realized until I got an escrow account disclosure statement yesterday. I knew property taxes were going up this year anyway, but I still figured my mortgage should go down. Yet I failed to anticipate there would be a surplus this year already once my taxes were paid this month and that my mortgage company would be sending me a reimbursement check.

Oh happy day. The timing couldn’t be better, as December hits us hard and we generally only recover in time to be hit hard again come April 15th.

And this is why you can, and you should, fight city hall. Or at least the county assessor.

working lunch

Some of the old gang gathered for lunch today. My former boss, a former coworker who is now a current coworker in my new job, and another of our former coworkers. The one who made it big. Back in the day we were in at the beginning of something unusual and special. Transitioning a 100-year-old company into the digital age. (Oddly enough, at the same time I–a 17-year SAHM–was transitioning into the digital age.) Aside from my boss, who started at the company right out of high school and is now the brains and the heart of the business as well as a top-level executive too humble to accept a title along with her responsibilities, the rest of us came on as temps.

I was in the second training group, and I almost quit, on principle, during the first week of training. But a voice in my heart, the same voice that told me to apply to the rather vague help-wanted ad in the first place, told me to stop mid sentence. Within just a couple of months of getting hired, our temp jobs turned more permanent and one by one the three of us coworkers became supervisors. The other two, along with most of our crew, were college-age kids. I know they saw me as the old lady, but one of the secrets of growing older is that you are merely the sum of all the ages you used to be. So from my point of view I was just another kid.

All the players in this story are private and would prefer their names be kept out of it, and I’m not inclined to make up pseudonyms, so let’s just say the first one of the group to become a supervisor and I did not see eye to eye. In fact, we bumped heads, locked antlers, what have you. We did not even pretend to like each other. As my supervisor, he critiqued my work one day. The next day, I went back to him and successfully argued every point of the four points he questioned. Our respect for one another grew. Looking back, I believe one of the reasons we were so successful at what we did is because the culture created in our budding department encouraged this kind of give and take. It can be a little awkward at first, but it helps you grow.

I was made supervisor in the next round. I hadn’t been there but four months. Within a couple of weeks of being made supervisor, with a total of four responsibilities on the list of my new job responsibilities, the company moved an entire department’s work to our office. And we grew some more. Our other friend, the one with whom I again work only for a different company, became a supervisor shortly after. We worked hard. Worked hard to build a new department and worked hard to build bridges with other teams within the company who’d once seen themselves as adversaries. To this day, those are some of the people I miss the most at that company, even though I’ve never met any of them face-to-face.

The four of us–our boss and the three of us supervisors–became good friends. Like family. For me at least, that feeling of family extended to a good number of our coworkers. I drove one of the girls to the hospital when her husband was injured in an industrial accident. I drove a few people home when they were sick or without a ride. I drove another kid home when he was just having a really bad no good awful day. But the bond was closest among us four.

Most of the students moved on to bigger and better things once they graduated. I already had my degree, but like what I was doing, loved the people I was doing it with, and liked the way the flexibility my job allowed let me maintain my family as my first priority. Almost every year the one who made it big (I’d love to tell you how big, but then he’d have to kill me–I’m only mostly kidding about that) comes “home” for the holidays and we meet for lunch. We meet at the Olive Garden. Which is funny, really. He travels all over the world and Italy is his second favorite place. So he knows better, but picks it anyway.

Almost every time he says that of all the places he’s worked, he loves our team the best. It was the best of times. Today we finally articulated for the first time just how special it was. It never made headlines. The company didn’t go public. We didn’t get paid the big bucks. But it was special and amazing and wonderful nonetheless. I credit my boss mostly, for not micromanaging and for giving us the space and the autonomy to discover and develop our respective talents. It made us better individuals and it made us a better team.

On the night when it rained stars

Some headline or another I just saw reminded me of a time when I was a teenager. Our congregation used to have an annual campout and my family would always go. It was not unusual for all the older teenagers and young adults to gather in the middle of the opening in the trees to hang out, tell stories, and play games before sleeping out under the stars.

One year I remember we stayed up most of the night staring at the sky, which appeared to be falling. I recall maybe having seen one or two “shooting stars” in my entire lifetime, but here they were falling from the sky right and left. We’d never seen anything like it. Looking back now, I’m sure it was a meteor shower–perhaps the Leonid meteor shower. But that was back in the day when we had no 24-7 news cycle in all places and in all times to inform us of such events. While we were definitely in awe, some of us were also a little freaked out thinking it was the end of time.

In any case, it was a night to remember for sure. And now I do.

Going to bed without supper

I’m going to send myself to bed without supper tonight. Not because I was a bad girl. But because I put well over 600 miles on my car in less than 24 hours and I’m beat. And nothing sounds good. Or healthy. And I had an unhealthy lunch. I will get hate mail for this, but aside from the lemonade, I fail to see what everyone else sees in Chick-fil-A. There. I said it.

In any case, I thought I was also too tired to remember any stories (because I meant to post photos of my St. George trip this weekend except I was driving most of the time and only took 3 pictures and not a single one of them turned out well) but then when I got to the part about going to bed without supper it made me think of how when I was a kid sometimes we really did go to bed without supper. Because (apparently) sometimes (but not always) I really was a bad girl. But what I remember most was those nights when what we had for supper was a slice of bread in a bowl of milk. Sometimes (but not always–I’ve generally had a hate-love–mostly hate relationship with jam most of my life) there would be a little spoonful of jam in the middle. But not often. At first I couldn’t imagine really enjoying eating bread and milk for dinner, because I remember at times the bread was cheap and the milk very well might have been powdered milk. And I have become a bit of a bread snob (Zack announced just tonight that our next joint venture will be artisan bread–I can’t wait!) and also a milk snob in my later years. But then I remember my mother often (not always) made homemade bread. And we had our own cows, so it very well could have been (sometimes–not always) not so bad.

I don’t remember. And maybe that’s a good thing.

So jam. When I think of jam I think of PBJs. And I cannot abide peanut butter with jam or jelly. CANNOT ABIDE. I do appreciate peanut butter. I prefer Jif (how this girl who was raised on Skippy actually came to prefer Jif I do not know, but it’s true). And only with honey. Come to think of it, I’m actually a honey snob, too. Local honey is truly the only way to go. One of Zack’s friends gave us some of their honey and it is a little taste of heaven on earth.

But back to jam. I never really cared for jam except for freezer jam made from fresh fruit. Even then I liked my toast simple. Just buttered (real butter). Looking back now, I have no idea why. Because let me tell you what I had access to, just in my back yard:

Blackberries/loganberries/marionberries–we never really knew for sure–grew wild along our back fence. They generally made it into our mouths or from-scratch pies before they could possibly have been made into jam.

Tart/Bing/Royal Anne Cherries – the pie cherries were also made into pies and the others were eaten fresh until they were canned. I remember as a kid I would climb to the very tops of our very tall cherry trees to pick all the cherries. And because I loved the heady rush that comes from climbing to the very tops of the trees. Now I am afraid of heights and can hardly bear to climb a ladder. But as a child, I was fearless when it came to climbing.

Raspberries – Pretty any that did not go into our mouths may have gone into ice cream. Except now that I think about it, it seems our preferred flavor of ice cream was vanilla. But I also remember my mother canning raspberries. My Aunt Jean still cans raspberries. They are divine. Such an incredible amount of work! Aunt Jean would always stock my grandmother’s shelves with bottled raspberries. Love in a jar, I kid you not. I watched it bring the both of them great pleasure. (Sometimes Aunt Jean would sneak me a bottle too, but don’t tell anyone. Love in a jar.).

Now I do not remember if the peaches and pears we canned were from our backyard or purchased (or given to us in trade), but there was plenty of those to go around as well.

In short, all the fruits were available right there in my back yard, but I didn’t truly love jam until a good friend of mine started giving me her absolutely fabulous raspberry freezer jam (along with a loaf of Great Harvest whole-grain bread–see, I told you, bread snob!). And I ate lingonberry jam every day for breakfast while I was in Finland. And I also discovered Bonne Maman’s Cherry Preserves. Which I will only buy when they’re marked at least dollars off. But which I love with all my heart.

I was once discussing my food snobbery with a couple of friends as I had realized yet another (rice. hello!).

“Dalene, you’re a snob about everything!” Rachel voiced out loud.

I had no response for that.

And then she added,

“Except people.”

Those may have been some of the kindest words anyone has every said about me.

Maybe there is something to be said for bread and milk or going to bed without supper.

Expectations

Some years ago, lost in a backup file of my blog which I have no idea how to restore to my archives, I wrote of spice cake and Harrison Ford. He must have been coming out with a new film, in which he must have been playing a cowboy, and a photo of him must have reminded me of my Grandpa Rex. I didn’t have any photos of my Grandpa at the time, but I pulled this out of a drawer the other day and here it is.

Grandpa Rex

One of my brothers tells of the hot-faced, heart-racing dread panic he would feel when on the ranch Grandpa would tell him to go into the barn and fetch some tool or another. My brother would have no idea what said tool looked like or where to find it, but there was no doubt or question in the request. Simply an expectation that the job would be done.

I remember that feeling of panic. I felt it myself a number of times as a kid. But it’s come back to me in full force twice this past couple of weeks at work. I’ve been assigned tasks, which, even as I listen to what is required, I know I lack the knowledge or resources to accomplish. There is no doubt or question in the request. Simply an expectation that the job will be done.

Like so many other uncomfortable–even painful–moments inherent in childhood, this one is worse as an adult. No one to have your back. No one else to go fetch/do it themselves if you fail or don’t deliver.

And so I pray for a miracle.

And, probably like my grandpa would have done, roll up my sleeves and get to work.

Sometimes heaven sends you a pumpkin to let you know you’re not a loser

some pumpkin

I didn’t plant a single thing this year. No fuschias in hanging baskets on my back porch. No cherry tomatoes in big pots on the front porch and various other varieties along the back fence or the side lawn. No geraniums and sweet potato vine by the front door.

As a result, while my next door neighbor kept us stocked in zucchini and yellow squash, I didn’t partake of a vine-ripened tomato until I purchased a bag of them in September on the very last day Harward’s stand was in business for the season.

Nothing puts an L on a master gardener’s forehead like not planting or nurturing a single living thing.

Absolutely nothing.

And so I was surprised when one of my kids mentioned the pumpkin growing out in the back 40. Oddly enough, in just about the exact spot I designated for pumpkin growing a good 10 years ago when I took a landscape design class from Larry Sagers.

I felt it was a sign. Hold on to your dreams. To everything there is a season. Never give up. Never surrender.

***********

Today was a banner day at work. Not really. But the best thing was in the last hour of what was a very long and at times tense day, I got an email from one of the faculty. Instead of complaining, he was understanding. Empathetic, even. “I appreciate all that you do.”

Those kinds of words go a very long way to fix all that is not right in my world.

***********

At the very end of my LDS missionary service, which, like many I suspect, was both harder and more wonderful than I could have ever imagined, but during which I was much conflicted at times over how to be a mortal and imperfect being and still render service acceptable unto God, three things happened:

My mission president said of my current companion–a friend and sister whom I had met in the MTC–”It is good to see a smile on Soeur B’s face again.”

A family from a neighboring village whom I had worked with and loved drove to our apartment and camped out overnight just to say goodbye and to tell me they were being baptized the week after I returned home.

And a man we had taught in my very first city who had, at great sacrifice, also been baptized, stopped by in Brussels to say goodbye and thanks.

I felt they were signs…

No lye

Still giggling a bit over this pun Zack left at the end of his blog post. And reveling in the very last item he listed as “Things I learned.”

No lye

And it reminded me of a good story. It’s a sad story. But it’s a good story.

One day a few years ago Lindsay came home with some friends while I was at work and they decided to make cookies. Even though I keep my soapmaking supplies tucked out of the way, they were visible enough that when she went looking for sugar she did see the big white bucket of lye, even though it was not in the pantry next to the flour where I generally keep the sugar.

Lye looks an awful lot like sugar.

Fortunately for the batch of cookies, Lindsay thought to make sure it was sugar before she dumped it by cupfuls into the bowl.

Unfortunately for Lindsay, the way she thought to make sure it was sugar was by putting a little tiny bit on her tongue.

Lye burns. It burns like the dickens. It is very reactive when wet. And a little goes a long way.

She must have called me at work because she rinsed her mouth with vinegar (and why else would you do that unless your momma told you to), which is sort of very literally insult to injury, but it does work.

Fortunately for Lindsay the blistering was minimal and limited to her mouth and tongue and not her entire throat and digestive tract.

And despite her pain she was a very good sport about it and now tells the story now with a good sense of humor. (Lindsay is a good storyteller. She gets that from her Dad.)

I learned my lesson and whipped out the black magic marker and marked up the big white bucket of lye with a POISON symbol. And I try to keep a gallon of white vinegar on hand just in case.

No lye.

Total eclipse of the sun

red-ring-fire-heres-watch-sundays-annular-solar-eclipse-and-not-get-blinded.w654photo courtesy of WonderHowTo

Here is how my memory works. Every now and then I will see flashbacks of random places, events, sometimes even people. They are often disjointed and, as I pointed out previously, not necessary anchored to reality. Which is why they are suspect.

One such memory has come and go rather persistently and I’ve been meaning to research it to see if it could possibly be true. Apparently it is.

Even though I went to a small high school, as I stated before, the opportunities I had to learn advanced math and science were ahead of their time. And I ate them up. We got to do a ton of lab work in chemistry, where while I did not burn down the classroom, I did at least create some big and visible energy a time or two. We had the opportunity to take AP biology, during which we dissected not just frogs, but pigs and small sharks as well. Aside from the smell of formaldehyde, i really got into dissection. And you bet I was one of the kids who took the challenge and jump roped with pig intestines.

But one of my most memorable (and I use that term loosely) experiences was a field trip to see what was reportedly the last total eclipse of the (well, that) century. At least that’s what my memory whispered to me through disjointed visuals of a long bus ride with my classmates, light and darkness and shadow playing on a unknown hillside somewhere in northern Oregon, and a rectangular piece of thick, dark, possibly reddish/black glass.

So last night I set out to see if my good friend Google search could help me out. And here is what I found:

Wiki knows what happened. (That Wiki–she thinks she knows everything!)

And good old Walter Cronkite. He remembers too! (I’m kind of sad I missed the druid scene at the Stonehenge replica.)

Next one is slated for 2017. Anyone want to meet up?

Sweeping, synergy, and soapmaking

zack
Protective eyewear is a must when making soap. Safety first!

Zack wanted to come over today and make soap. At the time he asked the detritus of pumpkin carving strewn about the kitchen floor, a sink full of dishes and dishes on the table as well. The detritus of Halloween decor strewn about the living room. This is what happens when you’re working too much, you’re never home,  and you do Halloween last minute in the few and wee hours after work and dinner and before you go to bed so you can possibly bear to get up in the morning and start it all over again.

I told him I’d love to, but…

“How about if I come over and help you clean and then we can make soap?”

Music to my mother ears.

And so he came. And as we worked together – Zack doing the legwork – returning strewn items to their proper places while I went to town on the dishes, I thought of my grandparents on my mother’s side, Grandpa and Grandpa Jacobs.

Grandpa and Grandma Jacobs canned peaches together easily into their upper eighties, possibly early nineties. I know this because when they got too old to get around as much as they liked, I often picked up the bushels of lemon elberta peaches for them from the then-orchard-now-half-million-dollar-homes-development just up the road from my house and delivered them to Grandpa and Grandma.

I gave up on canning shortly after I went back to work, but I recall it’s a long, messy, sticky process. And it was particularly lonely doing it by oneself. And I realized that it’s likely the only reason Grandpa and Grandma Jacobs canned so very long is because they did it together.

Then word synergy came to mind. I’m awfully fond of synergy. I love how synergy reminds me of energy, because when I am working with someone–feeling part of a team–it’s not just that we accomplish more than the sum of our efforts, it’s also that I feel lifted, strengthened, energized. I am capable of staying more focused and more determined because I am not alone. It occured to me that’s part of the reason we are born into families. We are meant to work together. It’s good for us to share the responsibilities of taking care of the home and it’s more efficient to work together.

The best part of working with Zack today was, of course, his company. Zack is easy, smart, funny, and a thinker. We spoke of friends, music, politics, and some of his near-future plans. Good company makes any task more pleasant. Time seemed to fly.

After some order was brought to the house, we got down to the business of soapmaking. And you know how I feel about that. Even so, I was reminded that even the fun stuff is more pleasant with good company. Zack is good company. We’ll have to do it again sometime.

If you’d like to see what else Zack has been up to lately, you can check it out over on his new blog.