Archive for November, 2013

Warm Furries

November 30, 2013

Five doves are fluffily hunched on the gate to the long pasture, seeming to emit waves of discontent because their bird food plate is piled high with snow rather than seed. I will probably succumb to the pressure shortly, and wade around the house with a bowl of feed for them. I doubt that my steps will imitate my Shih Tzu’s curious snow shuffle, though. I’ve been watching Shian Shung coming toward me down the drive, each front paw’s forward motion initiating a wave of snow rippling slightly sideward. It is the strangest looking movement, suggesting he has suddenly acquired the widely feathered feet of a nun pigeon. Or as though he is swimming his front legs through the fluffy white stuff that is belly deep for him.

De-iced

De-iced

My Min-Pin, Doodles, being a short hair, seems able to bounce through the same drifts, almost as though he’s walking on top of the snow instead of wading through it. Not any taller than Shian Shung, he has more of his minimal height in his legs, and an overall springier step. When excited, he can easily bounce to shoulder height on my Lab/Collie cross. And does so frequently, trying to get Blackjack’s attention away from the food bowl, gnawed deer bones, or the treats in my hand.

Aw, please...

Aw, please…

Doodles survived in his earliest life as a dumpster diver – he was about six months old when I collected him from a distant ranch and brought him to live with the rest of my motley crew. Eighteen months of ample and regular food has not yet broken him of the need to be in charge of any edible in the vicinity. Fortunately, Blackjack has a tolerant demeanor, only rarely exerting his considerable might to retain possession of a favored goodie.

Blackjack in Charge

Blackjack in Charge

The fourth member of my canine family is an elderly toy poodle – like Blackjack and Doodles also a rescue – with more serious personality issues. I know nothing about his earlier life, but it cannot have been easy. He was found at death’s door, totally dehydrated, his fur invisible beneath a matting of burrs, his belly distended and sagging to the ground. He growled and snapped at every attempt to care for him, requiring sedation by the vet before medical attention and a total body shave. Damaged intestines, causing the sagging belly, seems likely to be the result of being hit by a car; the injury continues to cause him intermittent constipation.

Warrior newly clipped

Warrior newly clipped

If left by himself, Warrior whimpers ceaselessly, or barks non-stop for an hour or more. Six months after arrival, he began to let me pet or groom him. Diametrically opposite to Doodles, he is reluctant to accept treats, which he requires be set down in front of him, to consider at length, before he will venture a nibble. Consequently, he loses them to Doodles unless they are offered when the other three dogs are off exploring. Which happens reliably enough that Warrior does get treats, but is also unhappily alone for periods of the day.

Blackjack shows remarkable patience with the littles. He lets Doodles and Shian Shung play out attack strategies, his legs and ears the more common targets. He makes sure Warrior has the warmest spot on the porch, and tolerates Doodles’ determination to be first at the food bowls. I remember to give him an extra rub around the head and muzzle, and to tell him he is the senior, and most essential, member of the pack. His calm demeanor, his defining of the boundaries outside which the others should not roam, his lessons about what is and is not fit to eat, and his manner of greeting – or guarding against – visitors to my acres all combine to transmit the expectations I have set about tolerance, respect, and appropriate behavior.

The Littles

The Littles

Over the 40 years I’ve lived in rural settings here in northern New Mexico, my one consistent rule for all pets has been that they must get along with one another. Not like, not necessarily interact, but tolerate and make space for all who wind up calling my home theirs. As a result, I’ve had a dog who let newborn kittens nurse on her while their mother took a break from the constant demands of parenting. I have photos of a cat cuddling with a Bouvier de Flandres large enough to squash her if he’d rolled over. That same Bouvier encircled an escaped rabbit and kept it safely between his paws until I got home and returned Mr. Bunny to his cage.

Guarding the rabbit cages

Guarding the rabbit cages

The coincidence of Thanksgiving with the first day of Hanukkah – an event apparently not to reoccur for an enormously long time – allows me to celebrate my two favorite holidays in one. Favorite because both encourage not just thankfulness, but also appreciation of freedom, joy in new beginnings, and the pleasure of connecting across boundaries.

In a heap

In a heap

I am grateful to have observed these same feelings played out amongst my four-legged family members.
I am grateful to be reminded by my furry friends, each time I hunker down to pet and play with them, that I don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving or Hanukkah to participate in a demonstration of tolerance, respect, and appreciation.
They keep me sane, they make me welcome, they direct me back to balance when I start to tilt off center, they define home.
For all this, a lower reflection of the inner beauty being shown me by my spiritual Master, I am thankful.

Small World

November 24, 2013

Have you ever swapped “small world” stories?

Some are simple, like the appearance in the training class for my new job of a woman who lives barely five miles from me in the rural area denoted by a dot on the map called Sapello – a woman I’d met once briefly before, but did not know until we were paired, during the training, for motivational interviewing exercises. Turns out we have a number of common interests, and a shared love of living “on the frontier” as our employer labels the area we serve.

Other small world stories are of more surprising meetings (Coincidences? Fated encounters?)

Two of mine have their roots in my stay in Vietnam, from 1956-1958. I was in my early teens, my father assigned as the economic officer at the U.S. embassy in Saigon.  Ingrid, a few years younger than I, was one of my friends. Both of us were socially awkward, neither of us fully aware to what extent the stresses within our families contributed to that lack of ease. We – in modern parlance – hung out together. After Saigon, Ingrid was sent to a boarding school in Colorado and I moved with my parents moved to Paris. She visited once, briefly, during those three years I lived in France. Then we lost touch.

Blaufarb Family with My Mother and Me Behind Them

Blaufarb Family with My Mother and Me Behind Them

Skip to four years later, my junior year in college, and a trip to New York City.

With my then boyfriend Ray, I was on a date that included a meal at the Russian Tea Room. We walked into the dining area, and saw before us a large family group seated at a round table. Ray started forward to greet one couple and their daughter Pamela, a former girlfriend from his high school days. I started forward to the same table to greet Ingrid’s parents. Ray and I looked at each other. “You know these people?” he quizzed me.

“Yes,” I replied. “Those are the Blaufarbs, parents of my friend Ingrid.”

“Pamela’s aunt and uncle. I’ve been told about them.”

I didn’t share with Ray how immediately I felt transported back to the tropic heat and teenage anxieties of Saigon, where I’d heard too much detail about Ingrid’s socially popular cousin Pamela!

*******

My second Vietnam-based story begins at its end, tying Saigon to Sapello. One of the people working in the office of my vet is a tall, energetic woman a few years older than I, named Susan. She is the sister-in-law of Louie, who trained my younger mare, and with whom I became friends when I first moved to Sapello in 1990. At some point in my on-going  conversations with Louie, it came out that his sister had “run off with a Frenchman” when she was in her late teens, and that the siblings had only reconnected many years later, when they both settled back near their mother. in the Sapello area.

Louie told me that Susan had gone to work for “our” vet when he set up practice about three miles from my home. On my next trip in with an animal in need of care, I met Susan. Remembering what Louie had told me, I mentioned that Susan and I had a connection of both knowing French. The next few sentences revealed that we both learned our French, not in Paris, but in Saigon. We had both spent leisure time at the Cercle Sportif, the “club” where we swam, played tennis, and in my case took classes, and performed the French Can Can at one of their “spectacles” – shows put on for the enjoyment of the members.

Contemplating a Plunge

Contemplating a Plunge

Susan’s time in Saigon preceded mine – she left in the spring before the October that brought me to Vietnam, just in time for my 13th birthday. Susan’s Frenchman, whom she married at seventeen but divorced just a few years later, was the older brother of Marie Claire, with whom I became friends in the dance class, and with whom I performed that Can Can.

******

Ingrid now divides her time between New York and Maine; her son went briefly to Swarthmore, where Ray and I attended college. Looking through a Swarthmore Alumni Bulletin sent to her son, Ingrid found an essay I’d written. Through the college, she obtained the information to once again contact me, some forty years after our last encounter in Paris. I’ve since traveled to the East Coast. We met for an afternoon. Ray recently traveled west, and we also met after a parallel forty year gap, as I recounted in a post this past summer.

Meanwhile, Susan is retiring from the vet’s office for a combination of reasons, including the fact that the vet is introducing a complex new computer system to the practice. Susan “does not get along well with computers” and decided the stress of trying to do so would be an unacceptable strain on her health. I’m feeling vivid kinship with her now, as I try to understand the complexities of the several computer systems I must master in my new job. I don’t share Susan’s aversion to computers, indeed feel fairly comfortable with them – or thought I did – until I encountered the multiple encrypted layers of security that must be understood to navigate around a health provider’s regulation-compliant system. Thank heavens, Presbyterian’s tech support is a seven-days-per-week operation!!!

I expect I’ll still see Susan occasionally, as we live quite near one another and have overlapping interests. I’m in intermittent contact with Ingrid, and with Ray, by email. If the occasion arises for me to introduce them to Susan, will that somehow close a loop that stretches over fifty-five years and around half the world? Linkages through the Internet, which enable me to “chat” simultaneously with a friend in Singapore and one in Norway, have already made the world much smaller, but enjoyable as they are, those conversations don’t have the same feeling of “oh my, how amazing” that accompanied my encounter with the Blaufarbs in New York, or with Susan at the vet.

Is it just me, or is it something to do with the life experiences of my age group, that makes the face-to-face connection of a small world encounter more precious than even the most globe-encompassing Internet link?

Disconnects

November 17, 2013

It’s odd how easily what seems like a simple communication can be misunderstood. I received a spread sheet from one of the higher ups at my new job with a label of “Staffing and Skill Set”. It only listed two of the six areas in which I have skills. I replied with a query regarding why my other four skill areas were not shown. Then from a co-worker I heard that the spread sheet is meant to indicate the areas of specialty to which we are being assigned. OK. Those two are fine with me. I replied to the emailed spread sheet with that acknowledgement, only to learn from my manager that the sheet was indeed meant to cover all our skills. Full circle, confirming a gap in communication.

*********

This morning I tried to complete online registration for the 401(K) I’m eligible to participate in, through my new employment. The managing company’s form kept giving me error messages related to the amount of contribution I wished to make, although the money is already being deducted from my check in accord with a paper application I completed through my employer’s Human Resources office. The online form doesn’t provide options for non-traditional contributors like me, who are not restricted in size of contribution, due to already being over retirement age. Nor is there any way to communicate this information without waiting until next week to call and – presumably after punching lots of irrelevant buttons – hopefully reach a person with whom I can talk through my situation.

*********

Last week, I joined a group of my classmates (all career women, all aged early 40s and up) in the bar area of the hotel where we are housed during orientation. We were taking advantage of the free drink per person, and light snacks, offered by hotel management as a thank you for our extended stay. That evening was our last together, at the end of our five weeks of orientation, before we dispersed back across the state, to work from home.

We progressed from drinks to dinner, and from talk about our training and upcoming new responsibilities to more personal sharing of events in our lives. Unaccustomed to this sort of socializing, I mostly listened – and laughed at some of the wryly told stories. Young teen offspring wanting tattoos led to the revelation that the person we all thought least likely to have one actually had three. She showed them to us, discretely – breast, hip and lower back. Another woman stood to reveal her numerous decorations on legs, arms, neck, lower back – and one that remained hidden because she said she couldn’t reveal it without stripping off her top.

She did not hesitate, however, to offer up her (clothed) chest for “a feel” of her saline implant breasts in response to a query from the woman sitting next to her, who recently underwent a double mastectomy.

At this point, we became aware of the lone male in our vicinity (by that time the only other patron in the area) whose attention was fiercely glued to his smart phone. He appeared to be in his 50s, muscularly well-built and attractive, grimly determined to ignore the behavior of our cheerfully frank and laughing group. We did, briefly, consider inviting him to join us. Embarrassing? To him, or to us? No, just funny – and a reversal of experiences we have all had, being professional women who occasionally go alone into predominantly male environments.

*********

Direct deposit of pay is mandated in my new work environment. I expected to receive a pay stub, or some similar accounting of the allocation of my money, when the disbursement was made, but so far nothing has arrived. Maybe there’s a place within “my” portion of the employer’s website to find this data, but if so I haven’t been introduced to it yet. It is, for me, a singularly uncomfortable feeling that changes are being made to my bank account virtually without my knowledge. A lifetime of instruction on the importance of being in control of my financial status is totally undermined by processes that seem designed to “go behind my back” and wrest that control away from me.

Communication is connection.
A feeling of connection is important to emotional well-being.
Why then is so much of everyday experience so disconnected, misinterpreted, overlooked, or ignored?

ERRor, ErroR, ERroR, ErrOR

Chaplin and Me

November 9, 2013

As I headed toward the employee entrance to Presbyterian Tuesday morning, I flashed on an old movie – a Charlie Chaplin, I’m pretty sure but I don’t recall the title – of flocks of workers pouring into a plant, each showing an ID card and punching in before taking their places on an assembly line. In Albuquerque on Tuesday, we were a smaller clutch of workers, each wearing an ID badge which provides access via a scanned bar code, through multiple levels of security-locked doors, to our classroom, desks, and computers. How did I get to my seventh decade without ever working in such a large, regulated establishment? Even the government programs where I’ve been employed feel relatively small by comparison.

In orientation, we were told that Presbyterian hires about 2000 people per year, employs more than 8000, and receives over 100,000 applications for the annual openings created by turnover or – in the present case – by the expansion of its Medicaid program services. We were congratulated on being “special” because we were part of the select group chosen to be hired. I listened to the numbers in some awe, not in self-congratulation but rather in disbelief. What have I gotten myself into?

These past two days my subgroup (half the class of new Care Coordinators) received training on the still-being-completed-and-tested computer system which will be the primary support of our jobs. We will receive our assignments, create our case files, document our time and our activities, meet State and Federal mandates all within this one system. Given that there are quite a few bugs in the program, and pieces that have not yet been implemented, the training was likened to teaching us “to run the systems that fly the plane that the State still hasn’t finished building.” Take off is set for January 1st. Ready or not, off we go.

What fun!

Assigned to work within the Presbyterian computer system from my hotel room, I spent two hours in frustration at my inability to get through multiple layers of access in order to connect my highly secured work laptop to the hotel’s Internet. A classmate finally figured out the path, based on issues she’d had previously with her connectivity from home. I remember, back in the dark ages when they were new to the workplace, how we were assured that computers would make things easier.

Hah!

My homework included an opportunity to provide feedback on fixes the system needs to make it into a more effective tool of care management. The programmers have had barely seven months to design a system that normally is budgeted for a year or more of development and testing. I do appreciate being given a voice – I just wish there were fewer issues for me to speak up about! And that the changes and improvements could come sooner than the projected six months out from “going live”, which happens in less than two months.

Is any of this beginning to sound like Healthcare.gov?

Remember, Niki, you were hired for your “adaptability, independence, ability to think on your feet” and your implied tolerance for a very unstable and changing work environment. I do have those skills in person, and person to person. I’m not so sure I have them when it’s a matter of interacting with “technology”. I still complete the cards my students earn in their CPR certification classes on a (gasp) typewriter because that is easier for me than trying to create a computer template that will instruct my printer to produce them with all the right info in the correct small spaces.

Call me a Luddite – I’ll wear that badge proudly!

Until now, even the “field” workers for Presbyterian have been based in offices in towns and cities. They speak of those of us who will be working from our homes scattered in rural areas as working on the “frontier” – but still plan for us to use systems that rely on urban technology. I’ve only been able to access DSL at my home within the past year. If I lived a mile farther up the road I would not have it at all, would be dependent on satellite (or dial-up) and couldn’t get my work computer even to boot up due to timing out from the connection. As it is, the DSL flickers enough to pause my work on my fast and lightly loaded personal laptop – it repeatedly froze me out on the work computer which is slow and cumbersome, weighted down with multiple very complicated programs. Yet the concept is that I will take the laptop with me to client homes, to complete interviews and assessments.

I don’t think so.

Not when most of those homes don’t have connectivity at all – isn’t that what’s meant by the frontier? Out where people are living simply, often in the same way as their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc.?

We’re told we’ll be given paper copies of all the documents we have to fill in – and that we can then scan and send them to an assistant in the central office who will code them into the computer. That procedure will allow me to get my work done within the established time frames. It is offered as a support strategy – so why do I feel as though it means I will be dumping chunks of my work off onto someone else?

Because in my 20 plus years as regional manager for a home health agency serving that same rural frontier, I had no administrative support? If I needed copies, I made the copies. I typed my own letters, entered all my own work into the computer systems, and was the support for my staff when they got behind, or needed help tracking certification due dates, etc. We were a branch office of 5 with a case load around 300 clients and a field staff of close to 350, for whom I was the top-of-the-chain-of-authority supervisor.

(Now you know why, as I went job-hunting this past year, I determined I wanted a position in which I would only be responsible for my own work product!)

Had all those employees come into the office every day, we would have looked like my experience of this past Tuesday, or the Chaplin film, minus the time clock and swipe cards.  But my field staff were dispersed across a quarter of the large state of New Mexico. I went to them (as I will be doing to member homes in my current position) rather than bringing them to me. In between visits, I communicated with them by phone – either directly, or via their supervisors.

My new supervisor expects me to communicate primarily be email – with phone calls when email isn’t available. The company does recognize that even cell service is spotty “on the frontier” so they are acquiring a few satellite phones to be checked out to staff when they may be needed. I suspect, if I end up covering the same area now as I did for the home health agency, I will have one of those phones permanently in my car. Along with my emergency survival kit, including an extra book (paper, not Nook) to keep me entertained if I’m stranded.

Along the Open Road

Along the Open Road

My new job will definitely be an adventure! I’m curious to see how the blending of futuristic programming and frontier life plays out. I look forward to working in an environment that stresses being part of a team, offering clerical and administrative support I’ve not been used to receiving. I’ll do my best to not be a burden on my support staff, which means I’m committing to becoming as proficient with the computer systems as my connectivity will allow. I’ll need encouragement to resist being tempted by my paper “backup” procedures.

Will you come along on this adventure with me?     

One of a Kind

November 2, 2013

It’s a gorgeous, sunny, crisp yet warm autumn afternoon. I’m driving down from my home at 7500 feet towards Albuquerque. Down as in south, down as in descending to the city’s 5000 foot altitude. I pass from full-color glory of cottonwoods in deep gold, dotted here and there along arroyos which occasionally run but are now dry, to clusters of trees beside small streams which show a mixed blend of yellow tones. Here and there on hillsides I see an occasional, rare in the desert, sprinkling of red leaves where scrub oak is doing its part to show off. Wishing I had time to stop and take pictures at each of the scattered sites, I slow down and drink in the brilliant color enhanced as it is by a bright sun and a postcard-perfect clear blue sky.

An Arc of Gold

An Arc of Gold

Much of the land is once again brown, grasses dried and earth showing little sign of the week of heavy rain that caused flooding in New Mexico as well as Colorado. Oh, you didn’t know that we had floods? Not surprising. When it comes to national reporting, New Mexico doesn’t exist. Our flooding was not mentioned; our drought is equally overlooked, although we have officially been the driest state in the nation. Only when Los Alamos lay in the path of wildfire, and last year when the biggest wildfire raging in the country ate tens of thousands of acres southwest of Santa Fe, did New Mexico make the news. “Listen my children, and you will hear…” stories like those handed out to tourists in a booklet entitled “One of Our Fifty is Missing”  –  but that is the subject of another posting.

On the Prairie

On the Prairie

The rain is gone. One week in August, then a torrential week in September that dumped more than the land could absorb – now we’re once again living with drought, seeing long stretches of dun and tan prairie grasses, and encountering bears on the edges of our communities, some even making their way into the center of large cities in search of food. Acres of monochrome are suddenly interrupted by a line of golden cottonwoods. Looking out across the prairie, those trees beckon with the promise of a water course. Many of these small rivulets are dry, their banks eroded by the flash floods which accompanied that week of September rain, sometimes to the point that tree roots are exposed. Tree roots reaching down deeply, to what little is left of moisture; tree roots anchored in brown to give life to riotous gold.

A Survivor

A Survivor

I pass yet another cluster of trees about ten miles south of Santa Fe, and see cars pulled off the side of the road. Looking more closely, I spy a group of artists, easels lined up, some standing, others on camp stools, each of them trying to capture autumn glory. I wish I could stop and join them! Instead I continue down the highway, across dry flat lands, then down one last hill. Spread out before me is the bosque of the Rio Grande, a wide and many-miles-long swath of cottonwoods, in every possible shade of yellow. It is almost too much to take in – acres of dancing golden tones sating the eye to the point that I must look away, watch the highway and the traffic, overfull.

As I enter Albuquerque, I find myself searching out the occasional red of an intentionally-planted maple (they are not native here) and wonder if the householder responsible for the tree is, like me, originally from the East Coast. I delight in the rare splashes of red in equal measure as I responded to the occasional golden cottonwoods earlier in my trip.

Rosy red

Rosy red

I remember autumn in New England, red upon orange upon grape upon wine, each color seeming to stand out and be enhanced by its subtle differences from its neighbors. I never tired of those shades of red in the way that today I ceased to be drawn to the yellows in the bosque.

Neighbors

Neighbors

I perceive that, because there were so many different types of trees producing multi-hued woodlands, autumn in the East, with its continuous experience of changing colors, did not become “too much” in the way that miles of yellow upon yellow have exhausted my ability to be inspired. I ask myself how much variety is enough to keep me from becoming sated? Is it actually variety that is important, or uniqueness? A clump of cottonwoods in a landscape of tan grasses is unique. A brilliant red maple stands out against an orange-toned oak whereas, in an acre of similarly colored trees, each cottonwood loses its distinction.

Do we not all strive to find our own unique color, to stand out from those around us?

Some of us are more strident, others quite subtle, but all of us seem internally driven to find a way to express individuality. Undoubtedly one of you readers will have objected that the acres of yellow in the bosque, the totality of which I found to be ‘too much’, would have delighted you with its abundance. The open, empty plains that I find soothing were frightening to my mother. On her one visit to New Mexico she felt unpleasantly vulnerable, as though naked and exposed. I, by contrast, feel invaded, almost assaulted, by the intensity of human activity in urban areas.

Standing Out

Standing Out

Going out for a walk after orientation class has ended, I find a patch of grass littered with slim, deep red leaves. I don’t know what sort of tree they have dropped from – I’m not an educated botanist. I do know that I’ll keep the handful I collected on my desk in the training room, until they turn brown and brittle. And to have them longer, I’ll photograph them to upload to my screen saver, along with pictures of cottonwood and of maple branches lit by late afternoon sun.

Red Delight

Red Delight

I may feel sated in the bosque; I will delight in retaining reminders of this colorful day, replete with images that speak to my soul while teaching lessons about the value of individual differences.


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