Finding our balance

A reader asked “How’s it going in town?”

My answer – It’s going well. And it’s an adjustment that’s still in progress. We can’t say we are settled just yet – we are 85 percent moved out of the country place but still have some larger furniture and the washer and dryer to move (as well as all of the things in the storage shed). And we aren’t entirely unpacked here, either, partly due to the lack of those larger pieces of furniture (bookshelves). And oddly, given that this is a larger space, we have less storage so we are still digging through boxes when we need things. Fall break is the first week in October and I anticipate doing more moving, sorting, discarding and unpacking then.

Living in the city has many benefits – we are closer to everything so commuting time and expenses are less. I’m closer to my school job and I can walk to work at the library and the kids sometimes walk the mile home from school rather than waiting the extra half-hour for the city bus. Being in the city means more activities and choices for the kids after school as well. When we lived in the country the kids couldn’t stay after school unless they could get a ride home with friends since I was working late at the grocery store. Now when I work until 9 pm at the library I frequently walk home with my son who has spent the evening in the teen center.

The downsides are also characteristic of cities – traffic, noise (loud parties, sirens from the nearby police and fire station, music festivals in the park down the road), difficulty parking and more encounters with shady strangers (like the fellow on a bicycle who emerged from our drive/alleyway late one night flashing a light around. I asked him if he lost something and he replied, “Yes, my girlfriend’s gold heirloom necklace in a baggie.” I told him if I found it I would turn it in to the police station.)

In addition to not being physically settled we haven’t yet found a balance in our routine. I think those things are partly connected but as well we are feeling a bit unmoored. While school is going better for the kids than it did in the early days they still haven’t completely found their footing (and friends). I see progress though – my daughter now sits with a regular group at lunch instead of by herself and my son has signed up for the robotics club. The animals are not happy having to stay inside and no longer being free to roam and the cats are more short tempered and aggressive with each other. We are trying to provide more toys, attention and stimulation for them.

I myself, am very tired. At school we are experiencing yet another new set of leaders in administration (there hasn’t be a year yet since I started where we haven’t had a new principal, assistant superintendent or superintendent). That can’t help but add pressure which heightens the level of tension among co-workers. We have about a dozen new teachers in my two buildings meaning new folks to train and get on board with our initiatives and unfortunately the loss of some of the more committed teachers. All the STEM Coaches are going through a national accreditation program and have to build a portfolio and I’m in charge of getting two Makerspaces up and running so school work is very busy.

Three days a week I work from 4 to 9 pm as my library shifts follow directly after school gets out. I put in a 6-hour shift on Sundays as well. The library job is not as stressful as the grocery store was and the extra income is invaluable – we wouldn’t be able to afford to live in the city without it but the schedule takes a toll. Some days I wake up needing a nap!

Meanwhile my older daughters are doing well in their senior and freshman years at college – so many transitions this year! They are both busy with classes and jobs and friends. My freshman daughter turned 18 yesterday and we drove down to college to surprise her and take her out to dinner. It was nice to have the whole family together for a little bit.

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Well, we did it (mostly). We moved to town. Are we unpacked (or even fully moved) and settled in? No. But the family and dogs are here and we all have a bed. We had a real dinner – fish and roasted veggies with Italian seasoning and garlic bread- tonight even though we don’t have a table or chairs. The cats arrive tomorrow and larger items, including table, fireplace, my desk, washer and dryer, will be moved when we can rent a truck. Our move coincided with the return of the college students and all the U-haul, Penske, and Ryder trucks are spoken for. Truthfully as we are waist-high in boxes waiting to be unpacked, and school starts for me on Tuesday and the kids on Wednesday and I just found out I have to move out of my office at school and into the maker-space, I can wait another week or two for the rest of our stuff!

We have (with help) chopped down the jungle, pulled ivy off the house and porch, cleaned, painted walls, stripped paint from cupboards and repainted them, covered windows, removed extensive mold from the basement so the plumbers would venture down there, had all new waterlines run to replace pipes that had frozen and split, and made myriad minor improvements. And we are nowhere finished – we need a new kitchen faucet and tub spout (we have water but things leak so no showers yet). The bathroom floor needs replacing and there are still electric issues (ceilings with wires and no light fixtures). The weeds in the yard keep reappearing. We haven’t touched the garage which needs cleaning out and getting electricity restored (the kids think it would make a nice teen hangout spot). The cellar access door is a rotting wood frame with shingles that leaks into the basement. I’ve draped a heavy duty tarp over it for now. Lots still to do here and at the country place (cleaning, moving things, securing it so critters don’t move in, dealing with the garden shed and ‘greenhouse’).  The timing just didn’t work out the way I’d hoped (moving in June or early July and spending time settling in before school).

Things we love about living downtown – we are so close to all the amenities! The library is only 4 blocks away so I can walk to my 2nd job and my son has become totally engaged in the teen center there. There are wonderful restaurants within walking distance and we plan to try something new once a month on a payday Friday. My daughter and I are volunteering at the local animal shelter walking dogs 2 hours a week on Saturday. She hopes to be able to find a job next summer – much easier in town, especially if you don’t drive – and volunteering is fun and a resume builder. The commute to school is much less for all of us. There’s ‘real’ internet (meaning it doesn’t quit on you all the time and more than one person can be on at a time) which is actually cheaper than rural internet (more competition and choice in town).

Loving on Shelter Dogs

The sweetest dog!

As you might imagine this move has been expensive due to all the renovation costs and has taken an enormous effort on all our parts. I have definitely met my DIY match! My new job at the library (more about that another post) pays slightly better than the grocery store and should help to cover the additional living expenses once we have household repairs/move expenses out of the way. In addition to my main teaching/coaching job at school, I will be working 4-9 pm three evenings a week and 5 hours on Sunday at the library. If you would like to help us out a bit, we’ve added a few  things to our Amazon wishlist (thanks to all who have already sent us a housewarming gift). School starts on Tuesday for me and Wednesday for the kids. The college girls head to classes in about 10 days. I could really use another week or two but will have to make do as I can.

Below are some before and after pictures of the work we’ve done.

Rusty medicine cabinet

A little Rustoleum fixed that!

Laundry Room

Laundry Room with cleaned & painted floor

Japanese Knotweed growing back

Smothering the knotweed with cardboard and mulch

Old pipes removed

New flexible waterlines installed

Mold in the basement

Mold Abatement Team

No mold here!

Jungle in the backyard

Backyard with bird feeders

Posted in home repairs, moving, new home | 4 Comments

Work vs Work

The grocery store, with the arrival of a new manager some six months ago, became a much more stressful work environment. A lot of ‘efficiency measures’ were put into place with the goal of moving people through and out of the store more quickly. Some of the efficiency measures (curbside pickup) encouraged people not to even come into the store at all! The latest measure is do it yourself shopping – you get a handheld scanner and bags when you come into the store and scan your groceries as you go and check out through the self-check out lane. This is supposed to cut down on waiting in line at the cashier, and of course means you don’t need to unload your cart onto the belt and potentially reload it (if the store is short (as usual) on baggers). I’ve tried it. It increased the amount of time spent shopping but did mean very little wait to exit.

Although some customers worried that doing their own shopping would result in lost jobs for cashiers, our store was always so busy that there were no (known) plans to lay off workers. There were plans to make the workers work faster, however, and that efficiency measure was the thing that made the job go from tolerable to stressful and unpleasant. The cashiers were supposed to scan 27 items per minute. They also needed to be accurate – fore instance, scanning all produce rather than keying in the PLU codes we had all memorized (too much organic produce was being rung up as regular, less expensive produce). That often meant taking items out of bags which were sometimes tied or knotted closed.  Opening bags slowed you down. Items that came up as “Item not found” when scanned also slowed you down as did the things without bar codes and the customers who took forever to unload their cart.

Cashiers knew how many items per minute they were scanning because the monitor above the checkout showed the average IPM (items per minute) next to a usually red triangle. Supposedly the triangle turned green if you met the goal but I couldn’t swear to that because I never saw it on my monitor or another checker’s.


That number acted, as it was meant to, as a goad. Especially when supervisors came through with their clipboard and wrote it down. It was impossible to meet the goal of 27 items per minute – you could do it on a single really good transaction of a small order of mostly canned or boxed goods but because it was an average over all transactions in a shift you couldn’t maintain it. All it took was one guy asking for a pack of cigarettes – located under lock and key at the far end of the line of check out stations – to blow your entire day. If the customer was searching for coupons or handed you their loyalty card before putting anything on the belt, or had a partner who had run back for an forgotten item, well then you were SOL.

Some cashiers gave up worrying about it and just shrugged it off. I found that difficult (I have one of those ‘A’ student personalities and I didn’t like those C and D equivalent numbers on my screen) and I started resenting the customers. I stopped chatting and kept to the script – ‘Hi, do you have your loyalty card? May I see an ID (alcohol)? Paper or Plastic? Thanks, bye!’ You were supposed to keep to the script, by the way, but I’d always enjoyed talking with my customers – getting to know them. It made work tolerable, even enjoyable at times, and for some of my customers it may have been the most human contact they had that day. You could tell with some of them that was true.

Morale went down. Cashiers and supervisors cycled to other departments to get a break from the stress at the front end. People left, loads of new people were hired. We were always hiring. Bonus checks – based on metrics including whether customers selected ‘very satisfied’ on receipt surveys – disappeared. And I surveyed my job satisfaction level, pay and benefits (one of which were my fellow employees for the most part) and applied for a better paying job at the local library.

I started working as an Information Assistant at the library at the beginning of June. The first week and a half was dedicated to training – there were a LOT of procedures and software to learn, as well as familiarizing myself with the collections at the main and branch libraries. The first couple of weeks was a bit difficult – just when I started feeling confident an unusual question would come up or a co-worker would be rude and belittling. The main library is something of a maze, particularly the staff area behind the scenes and I still don’t feel like I know where to find a specific desk or person at times.

Information assistants move around a lot – there’s a drive up window for people picking up holds, a myriad of desks on different floors/departments and the branch library (where I go twice a week). You never seem to work with the same person and sometimes aren’t really working ‘with’ anyone but are staffing a desk alone. It can be very slow and boring, or brisk and routine, or complicated and frustrating! There’s a software program for checking out/in books, looking things up in the catalog and dealing with holds and fines. There’s a software program for punching in/out and submitting timesheets and seeing your pay record. There’s in-house email. There’s a program for scheduling – very important as you may move between areas several times during your shift. And naturally they all have different log-ins and passwords!

In some areas, such as the drive up window, you ‘interact’ with customers constantly but always briefly and sometimes with very little conversing. In other areas you may sort carts full of books and audiovisual materials with only a few interactions with customers. The library, like the grocery store, has self-checkout and most patrons opt to use it. So there’s sometimes a fair amount of ‘down’ time which makes the hours drag a bit. The best part is when someone comes up and and requires something that takes some research to find it. The little girl who wanted books on unicorns (rare, just like the creature as most were checked out) and elephants (which we were able to hunt down), or the fellow who wanted a movie but he couldn’t remember the title just the actor who played the main character. Those interactions are satisfying.

The staff, for the most part are relatively friendly, but there is a hierarchy that plays into interactions. The grocery store was mostly us and them (management) so it didn’t really matter whether you were in the meat or produce department. And the old hands took care of the new folk whereas at the library there’s a touch of superiority among the veterans vs the newer staff.

As with the grocery store, at the library you deal with people from all walks of life. The library is open and free to anyone. If you live in the county you can get a free library card and even without a library card you can use computers, copiers and fax machines, read material, and attend programs. There are a lot of families who use the library and there’s a fantastic teen center (my son has taken up residence there) and children’s department. There’s tutoring and materials available in different languages. If you can’t make it to the library there’s a van that delivers materials to the homebound and occupants of nursing homes and there’s a bookmobile that travels to rural areas.

There are restrooms and vending machines, free internet and comfy chairs. Some people seem to be at the library nearly every day, and some of those people clearly don’t have many other safe places to go. Some of them just want to be left alone, and some of them crave human interactions to the point of becoming a disturbance to other patrons or staff. This is why there’s a fairly large number of security staff at the library.

I’m still getting my new job ‘sea legs’ but feel that this has been a good employment move. I’m currently working 4 or 5 shifts a week for a total of 20 hours, which leaves some time to work on our residence move – hopefully happening in mid-July. I’ll provide an update on that next post – things are going slowly and costing more than anticipated and some absolutely necessary car repairs (brakes, new starter and starter cable and oil pan) are eating into my budget rather substantially. But small steps are being made – the leaky pipes are mostly fixed, a friend of my daughter is going to clear out the weeds in the yard, and gas and electric are on (although pilot lights still need to be lighted). Cleaning and painting continues. I’ve added a few move and college related things to our Amazon wishlist – none of the windows in the house have any coverings, for example- should you wish to help us with the move.

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