Sunday, December 13, 2009

15 Days, 3115 Miles, 17 Relatives

I recently took a 2-week vacation, for which I drove to see most of my family up in Ohio and Indiana (mostly over Thanksgiving weekend). What follows is a brief summary.

When I got off work on the 20th, I came home, took care of a few last-minute things to set the house up for "long-term storage", loaded up the car, and headed out. Stopped for the night just past Little Rock. Got up Saturday morning and made it the rest of the way to Elkhart. Spent Sunday and Monday chilling at home, before going to Elgin Tuesday afternoon to meet my sister. Brought her back Wednesday morning to Elkhart, had a quick lunch, then we loaded up and we went to Lima, OH in two cars (me and my mom in my Buick, and my dad and sister in their Durango). There we left the Durango behind, everyone piled into my car, and we continued on to Marion, OH for the night.

Thanksgiving morning, we finished going the rest of the way to my cousins' house near Mt. Vernon, and I got to see so many relatives I hadn't seen in years (2.5-6, depending on the person). My cousins (once removed) have grown up enough that they're not shy/scared of me any more, which was very nice. My mom had picked up a Mentos shooter kit (put in up to 7 Mentos, screw on top of Diet Coke bottle, pull pin, instant geyser), which the kids enjoyed. We had Thanksgiving dinner with everyone (very cramped, two tables and 18 people in one room) and enjoyed the rest of the day with family. Everyone else left that day, so we had a nice quiet evening with my cousin's family before going to bed.

The next day, we slept in comfortably, and drove back to Lima, where my sister and mom took the Durango back to Elkhart, so my sister could finish some schoolwork. My dad and I drove to Clayton, to visit my grandmother and aunt. It was the first time I'd seen my grandmother since she started having memory problems, and the change was somewhat disturbing; with my other relatives who have died, I wasn't around for most of it, so it's never something I've gotten used to. Fortunately, that evening was the worse of it, and her memory was better the other two days. Saturday was spent helping with some things around grandma and my great aunt's houses, and we drove back to Elkhart Sunday after lunch.

The second week was more relaxing, and much less driving. Monday I paid a visit to former colleagues at HCJB. Tuesday Dad and I worked on some things around home, mostly on my car. Dad figured out several problems I'd noticed but hadn't solved yet.

Wednesday Dad and I went to the Museum of Science and Industry, and spent the day seeing all the exhibits. My favorite area was the U-505, a WWII German U-boat (submarine, for those of you who are history-challenged), though there were other very interesting exhibits as well (the model train set and the airplanes were both impressive). After we finished at the museum, we hopped a train to the end of its line, then walked the rest of the way to Moody, where we met my cousin and took her to dinner. After dinner, we walked her back to campus, and then went back to the train station, which we missed the train we were hoping for by under a minute; it was pulling out as we rounded the last bend to the tracks. After we finally caught the next train, we got home very late.

Thursday I spent gift hunting, since I finally got Christmas lists from my parents. After a delayed but enjoyable dinner (how I miss gyros), I started packing up. I finished Friday morning, and left for the drive home. Got to the northern edge or Arkansas before stopping for the night, and then finished Saturday.

Overall it was a very nice vacation, and long overdue. I also realized how much I miss my family, and how hard it is to not see relatives more than once every several years. A few years of being closer spoiled me. One possible career change was presented to me for consideration that would enable me to be much closer to home, but I'm not sure if I want that specific opportunity. It's something I'm going to have to contemplate for a while, and decide if it's time to start directing my life instead of letting it happen to me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Safety Leadership Training

I just spent 2 days in a Safety Leadership Training class. The last thing was a dramatized video based on this poem, which sums it up reasonably well:

I Chose To Look the Other Way
by Don Merrell

I could have saved a life today,
But I chose to look the other way,
It wasn't that I didn't care,
I had the time, and I was there.

But I didn't want to seem a fool,
Or argue over a safety rule,
I knew he'd done the job before,
If I spoke up, he might get sore.

The chances didn't seem that bad,
I'd done the same, He knew I had,
So I shook my head and walked on by,
He knew the risks as well as I.

He took the chance, I closed an eye,
And with that act, I let him die,
I could have saved a life today,
But I chose to look the other way.

Now every time I see his wife,
I'll know I should have saved his life,
That guilt is something I must bear,
But it isn't something you need share.

If you see a risk that others take,
That puts their health or life at stake,
The question asked, or thing you say,
Could help them live another day.

If you see a risk and walk away,
Then hope you never have to say,
I could have saved a life that day,
Instead, I looked the other way.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Busy Week

Well, the past week+ has been rather busy, so I guess I'll update.

Last Saturday, my church had an all-day job search seminar. They needed volunteers to help with set up, tear down, and such. I'd volunteered to help whenever they needed, so they tapped me for the last couple hours and tear down. Between that and a couple shopping stops I had to do up in that part of town anyhow, that ate up the afternoon and a lot of the evening.

Sunday was calm, though I had a friend staying with me while he waited for a semi to be assigned to him for his job, so I had some traditional "entertaining" duties.

Monday night I had a meeting at church. Tuesday evening was small group, and the host family invited me over for dinner before, which was a pleasant surprise. Wednesday was the "quiet" day of the week, though my friend got the good news that they'd found a semi for him, and he started with it, driving solo, the next day. Thursday was the monthly summer Men's Group get-together up at one guy's property near Gilmer; he has a private lake, so a lot of the guys go fishing (I just go to hang out).

Friday was quiet again, my first day alone at home for almost 2 weeks, which was kinda weird. Saturday afternoon, I went to see X-Men in the dollar theater; if it was a random action movie it'd be OK, but as a franchise thing it left a lot to be desired.

In the downtime I've had, I've been working on a couple things. One is finally getting my Roth IRA planned out. When my truck's fuel pump died the day after I went to meet an advisor, I made a car replacement priority. Now that excuse is gone, so it's time to get this over with. Also, my dad's computer is starting to act up, so he's looking for advise on new, modern pieces, so I did some digging on that for him.

Tomorrow evening I had another meeting at church, then Tuesday and Wednesday for work I've got to go to all-day training sessions on safety (it's become the new big thing by our parent company), so I'm probably going to spend the rest of the week trying to play catch-up from that.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Remember the Sabbath

This past Sunday, I had to do something I absolutely hate having to do. I had to work on Sunday.

Growing up, working on Sunday, or doing things that causes other people to have to work, was avoided as much as humanly possible. In my father's upbringing, the commandment "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy" was taken very seriously. You don't work, or do things that might mean other people have to work. You don't go out to eat, you don't go shopping, or anything else where someone would have to be at work.

Growing up, we followed my Dad's instruction on this. My mom never had the same seriousness to it, but she respected his opinion. When I got old enough to consider it, I agreed that Dad's way of doing things made sense, and tried to continue the practice.

Keeping to it wasn't too hard, until I got out of college. Then, in real life, living with guys who like to do things like go out for lunch or catch a movie on Sundays, I slacked off a bit. Another part of the "rules" before was that we didn't turn down invitations from someone, lest we appear to be flaunting our spirituality (though I think my folks used a different phrasing to get the same point). So I played along for a couple years, though I was never really comfortable about it.

Over the last couple years, I've tried to curb things away from going out on Sundays for anything besides church. Since that was about the same time I moved into my own place, it was much easier. Also, I started finding polite and preferably subtle ways to avoid someone suggesting going out in the first place, and have gotten halfway decent at it. For most things short of emergencies, even if I have to do something like pick up a missing food item, I can at least avoid doing something where someone would (theoretically) have to be working. Automated gas pumps and auto-checkout lanes can be handy.

Having to work this last Sunday bugged me for a couple reasons. First, because it wasn't really necessary. My boss turned down a perfectly good Memorial Day holiday where we could have done what needed doing, and everybody's happy. It would've meant I couldn't go to visit a friend a couple hours away, but I would've made that trade easy (especially since I might've gotten to "trade holidays" for the Friday instead). Second, it bugged me because we ran way overtime, and I completely missed church; according to the original schedule, I would've made it in time for at least the second service, and maybe even most of Communion. Running late on something always bugs me, but when it means I can't be somewhere else I want to/am supposed to be, that can get me mad.

Since then, I've been reflecting a little on the nature of work, and found that my definition has some glaring holes in it. For starters, I don't hesitate to do things like surf the internet and watch TV, even though I know that there are people who have to work to keep those running on Sundays. Also, I've never put "work" stuff at church in the same category. I grew up waking up early every Sunday so that we could get to the school gym where our church met and set everything up, then tear everything down after service and then end up having a late lunch. So there's definitely a reevaluation that needs to take place there.

Finally, I realize how little I actually "honor the Sabbath" in my average Sunday. I go to church, sure, but when I get home I treat it a lot like Saturday. I don't spend the time in Bible study or worship, I just watch TV and poke at my computer, maybe do some chores that didn't get done during the rest of the week. This is the one that really bothers me. If I'm going to really practice what the Bible says, there's something missing there, and I'm going to have to spend a lot of time in thought trying to figure out where I want to be versus where I am.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Car Purchase Blues

Memorial Day weekend went well. Chris and I went out to Ruston to see Nacho, in my first trip with the new car. Got to hang out there and relax, as well as see Ben Hagar when he came through town on his way back to Alabama. Ben's done well for himself; working for a NASA subcontractor. Makes me wish I'd been able to find a job in engineering sometimes, instead of winding up in IT by default.

Looking back at the week, I guess the biggest thing that happened was that I've had my first unexpected car trouble. Wednesday morning, on my way to work, I noticed that my driver's window was down a crack. Tried to roll it up, without success, but it rolled down OK. Then it just kinda sank down some. When I got to work, I forced it up with my hands, but then when I left work, it had sunk all the way down into the door. I called the place where my old mechanic went to when his shop closed, but couldn't get it in until Friday. Fortunately, the rain we'd had on and off for the past week had stopped Tuesday, so I didn't have to find a way to block the window, and there's nothing worth stealing in the car.

So Friday I took it to the mechanic. It turned out the problem was a busted window regulator, which was $500 to fix. Hate having to pay the money, but it couldn't be helped. I had also been concerned that the high-beams wouldn't stay on, but it looks like that's just getting used to the new car controls; the car has auto-sensing headlights that come on when it's dark, and to keep the high-beams on you have to manually turn on the headlights.

In the coming week, I'll be taking the car to the dealer to have the auto-dimming rearview mirror fixed, and the front cupholder replaced. After that, hopefully I'll be done with repairs for a while.

In other news, Chris ended up staying with me for a couple days more than we expected. His trainer came down sick. I pray he starts getting somewhere on training, because I know he's really hurting for money. He's worked something like a week and a half in the past month and a half.

At work, they're changing how we're paid. I used to be paid bi-monthly; now they're going to bi-weekly, with a 1-week pay this coming week to synchronize things properly. It won't really affect me much, since I have slack in my budget (which is going towards saving for a house down-payment, now that the car is done), but I'll have to re-work my budget forms once I know what the hard numbers turn out to be.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

One Year (Almost)

OK, here's the best (brief) recollection of the past year, according to one N. A. Miller.

After the TX Republican Convention, the rest of the summer was pretty quiet. That trip burned the rest of my vacation time for the year, save one day I kept for emergency reserve, so I didn't exactly go much of anywhere for the rest of the summer. Biggest thing I think I did was finally talk my parents into cashing out the life insurance policy my grandparents had gotten for me to use for college, and my parents had subsequently convinced me to keep in case of an emergency instead. That was enough to clear my college loans, and I spent Fridays in July trying to call into the Dave Ramsey Show so I could scream "I'm Debt Free!" Never managed to get through, though. I celebrated that financial victory by using part of the leftover money to buy a laptop; got a brand new HP dv1000t right at the end of the back-to-school sales, for the same price as the previous model. It's been nice to have around, though I now have 2 laptops to drag along anytime I go somewhere (personal laptop and the one for work, in case I get called for an emergency).

When 41 initiations came along, Nacho wasn't able to make it this year due to his medical problems (more on that later), so I ended up assuming the role of "wise old sage" to the freshmen. Unfortunately, things weren't coordinated quite as well as in past years, so I didn't get to share much of my "wisdom." Oh, well, they seemed to do OK.

In September, work got interesting when the economy tanked. Our parent company had been looking to sell us since around March, and had some people interested, but when the credit market imploded, they couldn't get the loans to buy us with, so that all fell through. However, we'd finished separating our systems from Rowan's to prepare for the sale, so we've been operating as a semi-autonomous entity since then. That was nice, but at the end of October my assistant left for another job in Tyler (where he lives), so I was suddenly doing double duty. He used to handle the routine work like new users and network access requests, so that I could concentrate on the stuff that required an admin to control.

Since we're in the energy industry (everything we make is related to oil/coal/gas), a good chunk of our business dried up. This revealed some glaring inefficiencies in some areas, especially poor management of our Houston plant. November began the first round of layoffs for Houston, followed by by another round in January that also hit our Vicksburg plant, and then a third round in March that hit both of them and Longview, as well. We lost two people from the IT department in Longview, plus another in Houston. My job is secure, since when things tanked they decided not to replace my assistant, but it took me literally weeks each time to process all the paperwork and get everyone access to what they needed to cover all the gaps company-wide. Fortunately, it appears we're finally down to a managable size now; from what I've seen, LTI's even turning a profit. I'm still trying to get back to the projects that were on my list when my assistant left, but some recent reductions in what we have to do for our SOX audits should free up my time again.

OK, switching gears from professional life back to personal...

Had a notable blow-up with my part-time roommate back at the beginning of November over politics of the time (among other things). Basically came down to a difference in outlooks; he's much more realpolitick than I am, and somewhat more moderate. We went at it pretty good through e-mail for several weeks before it blew over, and we still have the occasional flare-up.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday were spent over at Nacho's place in Ruston, which was a nice change of pace. Still don't quite get used to leaving home, and I still hate the time lost in travel (especialy in my truck, more on that below), but it was good to not be alone for holidays (which I usually am more often than not). Pretty soon, I'm going to have to start considering what we'll do when he (hopefully) graduates in November.

In April, Nacho flew home to Mexico for a month to get several batteries medical tests with a new group of doctors, and left his car with a friend over there. A couple days after he left, a big hailstorm blew through that part of DFW, and did its best to turn his car's body into a lunar landscape. Since he was out of the country, and I was on the insurance, I had the fun of driving to Dallas and getting things set up with the insurance to have the body repaired and the cracked glass replaced, then going back a couple weeks later to get it out of the body shop. Two trips to Dallas in my truck, which has no radio, cruise control, or AC. The "no AC" was by far the worst as it was a warm sunny day both times. First trip, I didn't get enough fluids into me, and got myself into mild heat exhaustion. I spent from the time I got the paperwork done until after sundown hiding out in a Borders and Wal-Mart/Sam's to try and keep myself cool. Second trip went much smoother, but still not my idea of fun.

About that time, I finally had gotten a good enough emergency fund saved up that I could start looking to a new vehicle. I knew about what I wanted: 4-door, newer than 2000, less than 100k miles, larger than a subcompact, smaller than an SUV or truck. However, with the economy down, I knew it was a seller's market since people are holding onto their cars instead of replacing them. Also, I only had a few thousand to look with, so I settled into a daily routine of checking the paper and Craigslist for good deals. A couple weeks ago, I found an ad on Craigslist for an '00 Buick Regal LS, with 140k miles on the body, but an engine with about half that. I got in touch with the seller, went to Tyler one afternoon to have a look at it, and liked what I saw. It had a couple things that I knew would need work, but I was OK with that. We ended up settling on a decent price, and I am now that car's owner. Title showed up in the mail yesterday. I've had it in the mechanic to fix one problem (bad wheel speed sensor that prevented the ABS and traction control from working); just took it this morning over to have an oil change and transmission fluid flush (which will hopefully fix the jerky upshifting when the engine's warmed up); and I'm taking it into the dealer on Tuesday to have the busted front cupholder replaced and autodimming rearview mirror looked at. Hopefully by mid-week I'll have a vehicle that really does feel like new.

Tomorrow afternoon, a friend and I are going over to visit Nacho for the holiday weekend. It'll be our first chance to spend more than a few hours together since he got back from Mexico. The trip didn't do a lot of good, since the doctors weren't willing to listen to him on what's already been tried, and that (along with some other personal issues) has him down at the moment. Hope I'm able to do him some good.


Having just found that a friend I'd lost touch with had decided to start blogging again, I've decided that I should do the same. So I'm going to commit to posting a minimum of one new blog entry per week, preferably more.

I have no idea what I'm going to write, or who will read it, but I'll let that part work itself out for now. It's time I start treating my life like it might be worth reading about.

Tomorrow, I'll try to make a big entry that brings anyone reading up to speed on what's been happening over the past year, since my last entry. However, right now I'm about to climb into bed.