2015 Year in Review

I’ve neglected this blog for much, much too long. Occasionally I would look at it and think I should post about something that had happened, but after being away so long, it seemed out of left field to do so.

But you know what isn’t out of left field? An end-of-year Christmas letter! I’m one of those people who really enjoys receiving these letters tucked inside Christmas cards, but since I don’t actually send Christmas cards, I can’t return the favor. So here is the Alexander year in review.

TL;DR: Ups, downs, we all survived. Now go drink some eggnog.

For those of you who want something a little more detailed:

5-year-old River had a tough year

5-year-old River had a tough year

We went into January happy and content. We were both employed, had a nice cushion in the savings account, and everyone was healthy. Then on January 3 — just three days into the new year — River reacted to a rabies vaccine and began having cluster seizures.

Fortunately, after a few days in the emergency clinic, he adjusted to the medication and has been largely seizure free since. In fact, we’ve identified just one on-going trigger: the vet clinic. Unfortunately it’s a consistent trigger. He gets so anxious that he has his first seizure as he approaches the door to a vet office.

This wouldn’t be a problem is he were a healthy dog, but he’s rather a fragile flower. I’ve got a plan to do some counter conditioning, but I have yet to implement it.

March saw a major change in my job situation. To my great disappointment, my contract at T-Mobile came to an end. I’ve worked there since 2007, and I would have loved to have stayed there for the rest of my career, but alas, it was not to be. Most of the company is moving away from contractors, and more than that, they’re moving away from work-from-home. Sad. I’m keeping in touch with my friends, but I still miss that place.

My lovely fireplace and red accent wall. That wall is my favorite part of my house.

My lovely fireplace and red accent wall. That wall is my favorite part of my house.

March had an upside too. We were finally ready to make serious progress on the basement remodel we started several years ago. We had originally planned to make the basement a large living room area, but I had an epiphany and it turned into a master bedroom. We have a gas fireplace, a gorgeous tile floor, a working-but-not-finished bathroom (that will eventually have a large walk-in shower), a walk-in closet, and bonus storage space. We moved down there in June, and I absolutely LOVE it.

Moving into the basement meant we were able to finally organize the house. I hired a neighbor boy and his friend to do the heavy lifting and FINALLY all the furniture is in the rooms it should be in, junk has been thrown out, and stored things are in storage. It’s quite a relief.

Finishing the basement cleared out that cash we had squirreled away, so by summer I was anxious to replenish it. When my contract at T-Mo ended, I moved right into a new position with a company called Trillium Creative Solutions. They’re a learning consulting company that primarily functions as a Microsoft vendor. I freelanced through them steadily until Microsoft’s fiscal year end at the end of June. They warned me that work would be unpredictable in July, but July turned into August and August into September. Small projects here and there, but the months crept by without anything steady. I began looking for work, but work-from-home is a deal killer to so many.

All of the job news isn’t bad, though. After 18 years working for University of Washington Medical Center Information Systems, in July Jay got a job at Philip’s Healthcare. And it’s work-from-home! Jay’s commute was 1.5-2 hours EACH WAY every day, and it was killing him. He loves his new job, but more than that, he loves all the time he has gained by giving up the commute.

7-year-old Pflouff -- thankfully healthy!

7-year-old Pflouff — thankfully healthy!

So as we moved into the fall, we had less money than we were used to, and my work was spotty, but we were doing okay. Then in October, the dogs started getting sick. River bloated. Pax had a serious attack of IBD. They recovered, and then a wave of kennel cough went through the house. First Pflouff — our strong, healthy Newf — had a mild case. Then River — the dog we can’t take to the vet — couldn’t breathe. Our incredible vet worked with us on the phone to diagnose and treat him for pneumonia. Just when we made it through that crisis, Pax developed pneumonia.

Pax. Too stubborn to pose for a picture

Pax. Too stubborn to pose for a picture

Our beautiful Pax is 14 years old. I wasn’t concerned initially, because River had just had this and came through it fine. But we took him to the animal emergency clinic… and he was there for three days. They didn’t think he would make it. When we brought him home, I think they thought it was hospice care. But he fooled everybody. He’s feisty. He rallied, and he has fully recovered.

Happy but dirty ponies

Happy but dirty ponies

That brings us to the end of December. Right now all is peaceful and content in the Alexander household. Pax is well enough to be an ass. River is curled up at my side where he belongs. I had a short project in November and early December that brought in some much-needed money. Jay is still enjoying his job. Pflouff and the ponies are, thankfully, staying out of trouble.

I’ll be glad to see the end of 2015. I’m hoping 2016 is better. I have a few resolutions, one of which is to update this blog more frequently. Hope all is well with you, and I hope to chat with you again soon!

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for reading!

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Reinventing Melissa, redux

In early 2007 I retired from the ClickerSolutions mailing list and found myself at a loss. I had identified strongly with the clicker trainer label and without it, I wasn’t sure who I was. Reinventing-Melissa was born. Many changes happened over the next six years. We moved to the country and got horses. I finished a screenplay and started a novel. And in June 2007 I started a five-month instructional design contract that turned into the happiest years of my career.

Tomorrow, May 31, is my last day at the job I’ve had since June 2007. Three weeks shy of six years — an eternity for a contract position. That’s the longest I’ve ever stayed in one job, and given my druthers, I’d have stayed until I retired.

My husband noted once that he’d never seen me so happy at a job, and although I’ve had good positions in the past, I think that’s true. I learned a lot, both about instructional design and about myself. I became more confident about my skills and stronger in my leadership abilities.

Most importantly, though, I worked with people who became family. As I make it through these last hours, wrapping up loose ends and telling my coworkers goodbye, I have to repeatedly remind myself and them that only the job is ending. Our friendship is not and will not.

What happens after tomorrow is up in the air. It is Reinventing-Melissa all over again. We cannot pay our mortgage and feed our critters on my husband’s salary alone, so I must find another source of income. At the same time, the Universe is pushing me to change what I do, to follow my heart and become the person I am meant to be.

I’m going forward with a positive attitude and a spirit of adventure. I’m standing on the precipice with the entire world stretched out before me. I have only to pick the direction in which I want to go. No matter what: I will be all right. I will thrive, and I will be happy. I am blessed (so very blessed) and loved (so very loved).

My short-term — well, call it mid-term — goal is to finish my novel. After tomorrow I am officially a full-time writer. What else the future holds, I’m not certain, but I’m excited to find out.

To those I’ve worked with for the past six years, please know I love and will miss you. I can honestly say, it has been a privilege.

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Spring update

Here it is almost spring, so I thought I should do another update.

Work
I’m still in the same job. Without going into a long, complicated story, let’s just say my contract runs through the end of May. I love this job, so I hope, hope, hope that it will be extended beyond that, but it’s no longer about what my department, my director, or even leadership in our division of the company want. Now it’s a edict from the highest leadership in the company to get rid of contractors and trim headcount. Scary!

Still, like I said, I love my job. I started a new project last week, and I’m really excited about it. It will keep me busy through the end of my contract (or through the middle of the summer). I have a new manager, and he’s as awesome as the last two were. I’m still working with wonderful people, and still working from home. What more could I ask for?

Remodel
The remodel of the basement is still on hold. We had one chunk of cash left from last year’s overtime windfall, and we used it to remodel the barn. My husband would have MUCH preferred to finish his office, but I asked him straight out: Can we afford to board the horses indefinitely? The answer was no, so we really, truly HAD to remodel the barn.

(I do feel kind of guilty about it, though, because I got my office AND my barn, and he got nothing. I’ve offered to trade offices with him, so he can have the warm, finished office. So far he hasn’t taken me up on it. He can though, whenever he wants — really.)

The barn looks amazing!! We saved a huge chunk of change by purchasing used stall fronts from a guy on Craigslist. He only had three, but that was fine, because I wanted to turn the  fourth stall into a tack room with a locking door. We just did the bare minimum this go ’round, which means new stall fronts, tack room, water, and electricity. Water and electricity means we don’t have to run hoses and extension cords anymore. Awesome! We’re working on shelving and such for the tack room so we can keep that organized too. We don’t have a garage, so it has to hold not only tack but also tools, garden supplies, and fence supplies.

Tack room and one stall

Tack room and one stall

Horses
Since the barn is (almost) finished, Blue will be coming home on April 1. Sadly, Miss Guin won’t be accompanying him. Her ringbone has progressed, and she isn’t doing well. She’s not at the point where we have to euthanize her, but she likely will be fairly soon. Leslie, the person who is boarding her, is a farrier, and is able to work on her feet in very short sessions — a minute here and there. (She can’t even do a whole foot at one time anymore.) There’s no way I could do that here.

I’m sorry Guin won’t be here, but I’m glad Blue will be. I’ve missed him! Since I don’t like keeping horses by themselves, he needs a buddy. I’m going to foster a horse for Monica. She’s pregnant and due in June, so that will work for both of us. I’m glad I can be of help to her. She has been soooo much help to me in the past years!

Oh, almost forgot — I didn’t keep Charlie after all. Monica had a come-to-Jesus meeting with me about loading up on project horses. She’s right, and Charlie has good prospects. His training is going super well! He’s really anxious to please and just a super, super horse.

In other horse news, I was going to adopt a mustang this spring, but it didn’t work out financially. We have a good list of what needs to be done so we can, though, so we’re going to work on those things a little at a time. We’re going to start with getting the shelter and corral ready.

Todd is going to raise the height of this old shed to 9ft and put a roof on it to make a good-sized 3-sided shed. We’re going to put gravel on the floor for mud control (and fill in some place on the driveway while we’re at it), and we’re going to use those round pen panels to build a temporary corral of the required height. Once the mustang is gentled and able to move into the regular enclosures, we’ll be able to remove the corral, add a front to the shed,  and turn the shed into storage.

Old shed (minus roof) and round pen panels

Old shed (minus roof) and round pen panels

Other random bits
Otherwise, things are going well. My mom was in the hospital for a while in March, but she rebounded and is back to 100%. (Amazing lady! I hope I’m even half as feisty when I’m 80.) My husband is doing fine, and all the dogs are doing fine. Pax is getting steadily older, which makes me sad, but he’s still hanging in there.

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Wrapping up 2012

Wow — it has been a long time since I updated my blog! There has been a good reason for that: I’ve been heads down on a huge project at work. Lots and lots of overtime. But the largest part of it wraps up this weekend (handoff on Monday), and it’s time to do an update. Lots of changes around here.

Critters
All three dogs are doing well. Pax is getting older, which breaks my heart. I can’t stand the thought of losing him — ever. Most of my critter update isn’t dogs, though — it’s horses. Back in August, Mr. Blue came home again. I was inordinately glad to see him! I’d missed him terribly. Our barn is in no shape for horses, so I’m boarding him at Eden Farms where I’m taking riding lessons. Here’s a picture of him at a clinic acting as a demo horse with Monica.

09302012a

 

A couple of months later, Monica posted the picture of a horse in the Enumclaw kill pen. (Translation: a horse who had been purchased by a guy who sells them by the pound to slaughter houses.) We made a deal: I’d buy him and cover his stall, she’d train him, and then we’d sell him in the spring.

Yeah, that selling part? So not happening. This is Charlie, right after he came in:

IMG_0946

Can’t get a good look at him there — sorry. He’s a quarter horse, extremely similar to Blue in size and build. He is an absolute love! He’s doing well in his training, and hopefully will get his first ride soon. Right now I’m intending to keep him. If he ends up being unsuitable for me under saddle, I’ll go ahead with the plan to sell him.

Miss Guin is still down in Olympia, happily retired at my friend Leslie’s place. I get down there once or twice a year, and Leslie gives me updates. I bought her a new purple blanket for Christmas. Hopefully Leslie will send me a photo!

My long-term plans for the horses are up in the air. We were planning to rehab the barn this spring so we could bring everyone home, but my job situation (and our funds) got iffy, so I’m not sure what will happen. More on the job situation further down.

The remodel
We still have no walls in the basement. However we have propane, and the electrical and plumbing have been done, and we’ve got a brand new whole-house generator installed! That was a huge part of the project, and we’re thrilled to have it done. It means that winter can throw its worst at us, and we’ll be fine.

It also means we can have horses at the house again. See, our well is wired into the house. No power = no water. That’s not a huge problem for humans and dogs, but it’s a MAJOR issue with horses. That generator solved the last big horse-owning problem we had.

The next major step in the remodel is to redo the stairs to the basement and finish Jay’s office. Both parts of that are huge, expensive undertakings. Right now those steps are on hold, because of my job.

Work
The major project was a major success. It was, without reservation, my favorite project ever. I’m extremely blessed to have gotten to spend the past six months focused exclusively on it. I’ll be sad to see it end. Technically, though, it isn’t ending. I am.

As kudos to a job well done, my job said, “We love you! Come take a massive pay cut and work for us full time! And if you don’t want to do that, get out!” Okay, maybe that’s not exactly what they said, but it felt like that. I’m a contractor, you see. My division at work has roughly 15 long-time contractors, and our senior manager put together a report showing how she could save the company money by converting all of the contractors to regular employees.

It’s not as bad a deal as I made it sound. They offered straight conversions for most of us, meaning we didn’t have to interview. (I’ve never heard of them doing that before.) And if you factor in the value of their benefits package, the total worth of what they were offering was essentially the same as what I make now for 40 hours a week.

That doesn’t work for me, though. My husband works for the state, so I don’t need their benefits. I need cash. The job would have required me to work in the office three days a week — 50 miles a day on my 13-year-old car, plus two hours a day lost to the commute. I just couldn’t agree to that, so I declined the “offer.”

The theory is that I will stay until they backfill my position. As I understand it, they won’t be interviewing for it until early January, so I’m hoping I can ride this out until the end of January. The *ideal* would be the second week in February, because I’m going out of town then anyway.

All of this caused me a lot of stress. I had been doing really well with my eating and exercising, and all that came to a crashing halt with the news of the re-org. I haven’t gotten back on track yet. I have processed the changes though, and I’m really not upset about them anymore. I wish the situation were different, but it is what it is.

What’s next?
Good question. I have to get another job in my field without question. My mortgage and those hungry horses insist upon it! But I think this is also a call to pursue some things for myself that I’ve put on the back burner.

I’m signed up for a Reiki Level 1 class in January. I’m going to focus on the animal communication again. And probably most importantly, I’m pulling Doubting River out of the drawer. The Universe asked me to write that, but I got too comfortable in my life and put it aside. Now I’m on the edge of being not-so-comfortable. I’m going to get to work before I become decidedly UNcomfortable! There are a few other things I’d like to work on too. (Honestly, if I didn’t have to get a job again, I wouldn’t be bored. Promise!)

December 22 will bring not the end of the world but the beginning of a new cycle. I think it’s a good time for a new cycle for me as well, eh? Reinventing-Melissa, indeed.

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Starting a new project

Because, you know, I have nothing but time for new projects.

Several months ago I begged and pleaded for a certain major project at work. I knew then that it would have super short deadlines and huge deliverables, but I was equally certain I was up to the challenge. We did a lot of preliminary work, but the project itself was slow to kick off. I watched with a sick stomach the days slip by on the calendar. Each passing day meant I would have less and less time to get my part of the project complete.

Finally the project kicked off, and yesterday I began what will be the toughest 3+ months of my life. Like it or not, the project is here, and I have to get it done in the time I have. I have a (terrifying) schedule that breaks the development down into two-day increments, and so now I just have to eat the elephant one bite at a time. The good news is that the overtime on this project is lucrative, which is good for both our remodel and my horse fund.

Yes, horse fund. I’m going to get back into horses. I’m going to do it right this time, however. I’m taking riding lessons and still trying to lose weight. I’ve figured out what went wrong last time, and I have a plan for doing each of those things differently this time. I’m not rushing into it. Lessons, weight loss, and money saving all take TIME.

I’m going to use these months to really focus my efforts, though. Lots of overtime plus a moratorium on books and dinners out will fill the coffers. The imposed structure — i.e., spend all my waking hours hunched over my laptop — is actually the perfect opportunity to regiment my diet and exercise to hopefully break this irritating weight plateau. (Cutting out cheese will probably help there too. Seriously, cheese is a gateway drug.)

Right now I’m very positive about the project. I’m focusing on the time off I’m going to take at the end of the project and the (hopefully) major progress I’ll make toward getting back into horses. My dear husband is less thrilled. He has accepted, but isn’t happy about, the financial investment associated with my return to horses, and he’s wary of the amount of overtime I’ll be working. As he noted, I work from home. When I snap, he’ll be the one in the line of fire.

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