Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How Jen Ran Screaming from Her Birthday Vacation

This year for my birthday, I decided to rent a cabin in the Blue Mountains. (Actually, the plan was to rent this cabin for Memorial Day weekend, but there was still so much snow I couldn't get up there, so I moved the reservation.)

We did the six and a half hour drive and got to the cabin around 1 pm on Sunday, the 21st. It's a nice little cabin, around 600 square feet, with a bedroom, kitchen, and living room. There's an outhouse, no bathroom. There's a propane stove, heater, fridge, and lights, but no electricity. It sits at about 6,200 feet on a knoll overlooking Oregon and Idaho. The view is awesome.

The first day went as expected. It was hot, the sky was clear, I sat around eating Otter Pops and reading a book. Sometimes I sat outside, sometimes inside. Duncan peed on a lot of things. I grilled a steak and corn on the cob for dinner. Duncan ate bees. Someone left a box of hamburger patties in the freezer, so I cooked one of those up for Duncan. Some people came up to look for a geocache that sits on top of the flagpole. We watched a small herd of cattle pass through a field below us.

When it started to get dark, I closed up all of the curtains and flopped down on the couch with my book, then eventually went to sleep.

Here's a quick sketch of the layout of the cabin.

At about 3:30 a.m., I was woken up by a truck pulling into the driveway. Duncan started barking, so I focused on shutting him up. I figured they were there to use the outhouse, since I couldn't think of any other reason for them to be there. They came up the driveway from the west, passed my car, circled the flagpole, and stopped in front of the shed. I didn't look out the window at that point because I was trying to keep Duncan quiet. I heard a truck door close. Didn't hear anything for a minute, then I heard another truck door close. I figured they'd leave, but they didn't.

I heard voices, then another door close. More voices, some clanking. Duncan had gone back to sleep. I sat for a while, listening. More voices, more clanking. I'm not sure how long this went on, maybe fifteen minutes.

I went into the kitchen to look out the window. It was two guys in a pickup truck. They looked like hunters. They had the hood of the truck up, and they had flashlights. One of them was messing with the engine, the other was just standing there. I went back into the living room, figuring they'd get it worked out eventually. After a few minutes, I looked at the south wall of the cabin and saw that someone was behind the cabin, shining a flashlight through the shutter of the back door.

I was sitting in the living room, completely visible to anyone who might choose to look through the east door or any of the north or east windows. I walked into the kitchen and stood next to the door that someone was trying to shine the flashlight through. I couldn't hear anything but one creak, someone shifting their weight on the back deck. They were being sneaky. They knew I was there, they saw the car.

I could see the truck from that angle, where the other guy was under the truck. I thought maybe the guy not working in the truck was just curious about the cabin. The geocachers had asked me what the place was, maybe this guy was curious, too.

After a few seconds, the light disappeared and the guy walked back to the truck. I continued watching them from as far away from the window as I could get so that they couldn't see me.

I was really uncomfortable with the idea of these guys knowing that the only person in the cabin was me. The cabin would be very easy to break into. One kick to the door, a quick pry bar to a window, and you're in. Maybe they did know I was there alone, maybe the guy with the flashlight looked in the front windows while I was in the living room and I didn't notice. I really don't know. But once I saw him trying to see through the shutter over the back door, I was determined not to be seen.

Henceforth, we shall call Guy Working on Truck "Guy #1" and the other guy "Guy #2."

Guy #2 went back to the truck, stood around. Guy #1 did stuff in the engine, did stuff under the engine, did stuff in the cab. Guy #2 started shining his flashlight around - at the trees, at the cabin, at the kitchen window. I ducked every time the beam swung my way. Then he did something really interesting. He put the flashlight down and walked west, down the driveway.

Have you ever noticed that if someone has a flashlight, you can't see anything outside of the beam because the light distracts your eyes so much that it seems darker than it is? I managed to see him go west without the flashlight because he had a light colored coat. But once he was a few feet away, he disappeared. Then he reappeared, flashlightless, a few feet from the kitchen window.

There's a difference to me between curiously examining a cabin with a flashlight in hand and leaving your flashlight 50 feet away while examining a cabin. Having the flashlight kind of says, "hey, here I am, looking at stuff, no big deal." Coming up to a cabin to look in windows with no flashlight kind of screams, "hey, I'm doing something I shouldn't be doing and I don't want to be noticed doing it. Please keep your eyes on the two lights over there which suggest that there are still two people over there."

So when he suddenly showed up by the window, I ducked so that he couldn't see me. The window is higher than 6 feet off the ground, so you can't just look in. However, you can reach the window to see if it is unlocked, which he did. Then he started around the cabin, checking each of the windows and doors to see if they were unlocked. After he checked the kitchen door, I went into the bedroom, which had the shutters closed and locked from the inside, so he couldn't see me in there. I saw him go to each of the windows all the way around, including a tug on the east screen door of the living room. The door was closed and locked, but the door has windows, so you can see right in. Then he went back to the truck.

At that point, I figured I was kind of screwed if they decided to actually break in. I had no weapons to speak of, just a kitchen knife. I decided to just sit on the couch and wait to see what happened. I figured they were just there to use the outhouse and got curious, especially since Guy #1 was working on the truck this whole time, but it still seemed very suspicious to me.

Another half hour or so later, they started rolling the truck down the driveway, and it started at the bottom of the driveway. I walked over to the east window and saw them driving down the road. I could see both guys in the truck. I waited until I couldn't see them anymore, then tried to go back to sleep. It took a while, because I was afraid they were going to come back. It was just after 4:30 a.m. when they left, and probably almost 5:30 before I went back to sleep.

I spent all day wondering if they were going to come back that night. I read my book, ate breakfast, cleaned stuff, packed things I wouldn't need for the rest of the trip. Duncan ate bees and barked every time a truck went by. I found a flag buried in a box of stuff on the table, so I took it out and ran it up the flagpole. In the early afternoon, a truck going west stopped just out of sight of the cabin and then couldn't start again for about 15 minutes. I could hear them trying to turn the engine over. I don't know if it was the same people. Later in the afternoon, we saw a cowboy with a border collie herding about 20 head of cattle down the road, moving east.

Around 4:30, I went out to take the flag down, folded it correctly, put it in a giant Zip-Loc bag to protect it and put it on a shelf instead of burying it a dusty box of crap. That's when I realized that I was essentially packed to leave. I had it in my mind all day that these guys might come back, and had cleaned up the cabin and gotten ready to leave. It occurred to me that all I was going to do was go to sleep and then get up and leave in the morning, so I wouldn't be missing anything if I just left instead. Around 5:30, I started packing up the car and by 6:30 I was on the road home. Potential crisis avoided.

Maybe I was just being paranoid, but that was some seriously creepy shit. You have to admit that.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Scarlet Letter Treatment

My bosses have a fantastic new way to motivate the team: public humiliation.

We have a 5-day close, meaning that we need to be ready to file financial statements five working days after the end of the month. Each of us has a task list with due dates. These tasks are all posted on our SharePoint site. Every day until we close, the list of incomplete tasks is mailed out to the entire team and anyone with an overdue task is called out publicly.

Our bonuses are dependent upon making our deadlines. We already have incentive to stay on track.

Fun fact! I had one task overdue on day 2. The task is described in the list as "Receive, review, and post cash journal entries from EMEA." I did not receive the journal entries by the end of the day yesterday, the due date. I received them at 4:16 this morning. They were reviewed and posted by 8:00, but they were still technically late, and somehow this is MY fault.

Let me rephrase this in case you missed anything pertinent. The Controller of Europe, the Middle East and Asia did not send me his six journal entries from his office in London. And I got bitched out for it.

"Golly gee, Jen, it's only day 2 and you're already behind? What can we do to help you get your job done on time?"

Um... what?

First of all, why is it not on their task list to send me the journal entries on time? Wouldn't that be the proactive way to put it?

Second, how is the behavior of the EMEA controller my responsibility? I have no authority over anything at all, so how am I supposed to tell someone 8 time zones away to get off his ass and send me his cash entries?

Third, and I think most importantly, I closed more than a dozen of my tasks early and the rest of them on time, but nobody sees that, they only see that I was late waiting for EMEA to send me work, which was done 20 minutes after I booted up my computer.

The only thing that this tactic will accomplish is that it will give more ammunition to people who want to have issues with other "team" members.

Monday, May 02, 2011

My home town

  1. Santa Clara, California
  2. Key West, Florida
  3. Summerville, South Carolina
  4. Great Lakes, Illinois
  5. Groton, Connecticut
  6. New London, Connecticut
  7. Back to Groton, Connecticut
  8. Yorktown, Virginia
  9. Back to Groton, Connecticut
  10. Back to Yorktown, Virgina
  11. Crestview, Florida
  12. Back to Groton, Connecticut
  13. Poulsbo, Washington
  14. Bremerton, Washington
  15. Silverdale, Washington
  16. Bremerton, Washington again
  17. Port Orchard, Washington
  18. Vashon Island, Washington
  19. West Seattle, Washington
  20. Back to Vashon Island, Washington
  21. Back to West Seattle, Washington
  22. Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, Washington
  23. Renton, Washington
  24. Maple Valley, Washington

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Accounting and office politics.

Two people that I used to work with gave me the same warning when they left the company. Both told me that if a particular coworker gave me a journal entry to upload, not to do it. This coworker tries to hand off journal entries to other people if she isn't absolutely certain that they're correct. That way, if the entry is questioned, she's out of the loop.

So this very coworker has done exactly that twice this month. In both cases, I couldn't understand what exactly she was trying to do. Basically, she knew that a particular account balance was wrong and what it should be, but she didn't know why it was incorrect or how to fix it. She asked me both times to correct her account and post the offset to one of my accounts. That way, my account would be wrong and hers would be correct.

The first time, I took the entry to the controller and he asked what it was. I immediately pointed to the coworker and dragged her in to explain it. She couldn't do it, so the entry was changed to only what I needed to post to my accounts. 

The second time, I asked the assistant controller why this was being sent to me to post. My coworker can post her own entries, so there's no reason for me to post them for her. I pointed out that I couldn't see where she was getting the number that she was getting and I didn't know where the offset was. (That was a lie. I know exactly what the offset is. That's beside the point. I wanted this little drama to play out to see what she would say.) I told the assistant controller that I didn't want to be responsible for an entry that I didn't understand. He agreed and told me to ask the coworker for more information and if I still couldn't understand it to talk to him. I sent her email back to her, asking her what the entry was supposed to be and where she was getting her number. I even suggested the correct offset account. Several hours later, she replied that she didn't know the offset and suggested an account that was completely incorrect and would have thrown off my OCI account, which is a high profile account in audits.(The correct offset is actually an intercompany P&L account that gets eliminated in consolidation, and is NEVER looked at by the auditors.) 

What this says to me is that my coworker has twice tried to dump work on me that would have corrected her accounts and thrown mine off. I think she knows that. I'm wondering if she knows I know what she's up to. 

This could get unpleasant. Well, you know. More unpleasant.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Visiting another world

Friday was good.

The weather was perfect. Traffic was mostly light. Duncan and I started out early and headed east on I-90. There's still an amazing amount of snow up at Snoqualmie Pass. I pulled over at a gas station for a moment just to see how deep it was, and I think it was over 15 feet.

We headed from there down to Vantage. I didn't really have a reason to pull over in Vantage other than to let Duncan have a break and to find a restroom for myself. I pulled over right by the Vantage bridge where there's a boat launch so that he could oogle the geese and have a quick wade in the water, since it was already quite warm. From there we went up to the interpretive center for the petrified forest where to my surprise I found out that they have petroglyphs that were moved from another Columbia River site to keep them safe. I took pictures of those and some of the petrified tree stumps before we headed off to "Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies." I stop there every time I am in the neighborhood (get it? NEIGH-borhood?) and climb up the hill and wander amongst the ponies. Every one of them is different, and you can't see that from the parking area. The view from the top is fantastic.

From there we headed to The Feathers, a popular rock climbing area. I was just there to take pictures of the purty rocks. I know next to nothing about geology, but I do like columnar basalt and other distinctive rock formations. The colors were fantastic, the way they break and erode is really interesting, and watching people climb these things like monkeys was really interesting. But I can hang around in a rock climbing area for only so long before I decide that it is time to see something else.

It was still early when we left The Feathers, so I headed east again with the intention of just following signs until I saw something interesting. There was a sign for Grand Cooley Dam, so that's where I headed. It was a pretty nice drive, though at first it was just flat and straight, though farmland with nothing to look at. Once we got past Ephrata the scenery changed into something more resembling the Southwest than what I think of as Washington.

On the way to Grand Cooley Dam we passed a couple of places that I'm going to spend more time in later this year. One was Sun Lakes and Dry Falls. Dry Falls was originally a waterfall. Looking at the cliffs and to Sun Lakes below, it is really hard to imagine that there could ever have been enough water in the area for it to be a waterfall, but at the end of the last ice age, it was. I'm going to read up about it before I go for real. I think I'll camp there for a weekend. Nearby was the Lenore Lake Caves. I have no idea what's in the caves or how deep they are, but from the bottom they looked interesting. I didn't go up because another carload of people arrived at the same time. They were kinda freaking me out and I didn't feel safe, so off I went.

From there the drive up to the dam was really nice. The scenery is interesting and constantly changing. There's a town called Electric City. From there, there's no phone service, I can tell you that much. The dam was pretty much a dam, so we used that as a turnaround point.

The drive home was fine, until we hit the traffic. Holy crap, the traffic. I-90 is having some work done, so they have one lane shut down for maybe a mile. It took me about 3.5 hours to get through from Cle Elum to just below Snoqualmie Pass. It was miserable. We were sitting for up to 15 minutes at a time. People were getting out of their cars, walking their dogs, hanging out in the last of the sun.

I got off the freeway at the Roslyn exit, drove in to town, got gas, let Duncan pee on a few trees, found a restroom for myself and then headed back out to the highway. That took about half an hour. By the time I got back to the freeway, the people that I had been near when I left the freeway were the same people I merged into at the end of the offramp. Gah! It was disheartening, to say the least.

So aside from the 5 hour portion of the drive that should have taken two hours, it was a very nice, relaxing, enjoyable day that gave me a few ideas for things I'd like to do this summer.

Pictures are here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Greener grass does not mean better pastures.

I was thinking earlier today about stupid old sayings. "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" went through my head, followed immediately by, "The grass is always greener here because this is where all the damn rain is."

It is the second half of April. That means it is cold and raining and windy most of the time. That isn't really any different than it has been for the last 6 months, but after 6 months it wears me out. I'm dying to get out of Western Washington. This happens to me every year. I had a trip to Texas for work one year. Another year I bailed out to Death Valley for a weekend just to get away from the moss and the ferns and the damp and the grey. I drove to Smith Rock State Park in Oregon one day in May a few years ago, which I hope to do again soon. I can't really afford to do any serious travel, so I have to keep it local.

Luckily, Western Washington has this interesting thing called Eastern Washington next to it. Let's compare and contrast, shall we?
Western Washington: usually cold and wet. Ferns, moss, evergreen trees. Slugs. Hilly. Metropolitan.
Eastern Washington: hot in summer, almost always dry. Sagebrush, tumbleweeds, prickly pears. Rattlesnakes. Flat. Agricultural.

On Friday, I'm packing up the mutt and we're heading out to a place called Frenchman Coulee. It's a very popular rock climbing area near the Columbia River. I'm not a rock climber, but the rocks are really pretty, so I'm going to wander and take pictures for a while. It will be a nice break from the greener side of the mountains. I'll pass from rain on this side to snow at the passes and down to high desert when I get off the eastern slope. That progression will be enough to make me feel better. The weather will be great, but more to the point, it will be better than over here.

And it is a great way to spend a day that everyone else will be in the office.

Friday, April 08, 2011

This is shaping up to be a really crappy year.

At the end of every year, I get a little spark of hope that the next year will be better. I never learn.

Work is generally the same. I've taken on more work again, without extra pay or respect from the "team." I have more work and responsibility than ever, along with shorter deadlines that I struggle to make. My new bosses are better than the one they replaced, but I'm still thinking of hunting for something new. I'm still hoping my last good boss who quit will call me with an opening in her company. If she makes me an offer, I'll probably take it. I'm tired of not being paid what my predecessor was paid. I'm tired of the snottiness from the people in my group. I'm tired of never having free time during the work week. I'm tired of bringing work home with me. I'm tired.

Duncan has decided that he doesn't want to sleep in the house with me anymore. Instead, he sleeps in the garage by himself in the cold. I'm taking it personally. I probably shouldn't. He probably just likes the cold. He comes in later in the night and sleeps in his dog bed in my room. But it still feels like a personal slight, and it reminds me of my ex-husband's asshole behavior.

Bagheera is almost 19. I doubt she'll make it through the year.

Chloe is a nice little cat, but she likes Duncan more than she likes me.

That crushing sensation is back. Most of the time I can just ignore it and plow through my day. Sometimes I can't. I'm guessing I'm going to have to give in and go back on the antidepressants.

My left knee has been acting up. I'm in physical therapy for it, but I don't know if I'll get to hike this year. Hiking is pretty much all I have that makes me feel like anything is worth anything. I wait all year to get out to do the hikes I want to do. If I can't go hiking this year, I can't imagine how bad things will get for me by this time next year. I'll probably just do what I've always done: put my head down, focus, and go. It wouldn't be the first time.

I do have a few things to look forward to. I'm taking a week off in May. I want to get some work done in my yard. The fence needs some maintenance. I want to strip the popcorn off of my bedroom ceiling and redo the molding. I need to clean up the grout in the kitchen. These are all things I just don't have time to do on a standard weekend, and I definitely can't do it during the week. It'll be a decent, productive way to kill a week of my vacation time. Then I have a cabin rented in the mountains for Memorial Day weekend, but with the looming government shutdown, that may be cancelled. I've got a week off in July and another in August for hiking, but if the knee is still in fail mode, that's not going to happen. I've got another weekend booked in July at another cabin near a hike I've wanted to do for years. I'm hoping all of these things go reasonably well, because other than those things, I really don't have anything to look forward to for the rest of the year.

Getting out of bed every day knowing that work is going to suck the life out of me doesn't help me. Fearing that my vacation time may not pan out helps me even less.

So I'll keep working on my knee. I'll gather what I need to do the yard work. I'll get together everything I need for my trip to the cabin. I'll get a new pair of hiking boots. I'll organize my hiking gear before my hiking season starts. If all goes well, great, I'm ready for it. If it all falls through, I'll find a way to get by.

Head down, focus, and go.