Things that are different

We have a few things to worry about this week. My younger brother is in the hospital with cardiac problems, so we are thinking about him and hoping his procedure today comes out okay. Also, we have been thinking about our friends in Texas, in particular, Houston. Our friends in Austin report that it isn’t bad there. They just got more rain than normal. But Houston is a low lying city with a high water table and no high areas. We called one friend on Sunday, and at that point she said she was okay, although she was worried that water might come in the house. She said when the rain stopped, the water drained off immediately, so she was just hoping for breaks in the rain often enough to keep her house from flooding. We are assuming she is okay. As far as I know, she doesn’t live near any of the reservoirs that they opened up.

I don’t have much news this week, so I thought I’d write a little post about some of the things we’ve found different about living here in Washington, versus Texas, where I lived for 30 years.

Weather. Well, I’ve written a lot about the weather. We absolutely love it here. At this time of year in Austin, it would still be really hot, with highs in the 90’s or even 100’s and no relief until October or even November. We got so tired of six-month summers, and really hot ones at that. This week, it has been hot here in southern Washington, by which I mean in the 80’s and 90’s but cooling off into the 60’s at night. We have only had one day that we had the air conditioning on all day, versus most of the time in Texas. Most of our days are sunny. In fact, this year, we are having less rain than usual. I understand that most years it is sunny in the summer most of the time but rains every three weeks or so. This summer we have only had one rainy day. Still, it is nice and green here. We have loved all of the seasons, and we are moving toward the end of our first year here.

Degrees north. Since we are so much farther north, one thing we’ve had difficulty adjusting to is the earliness of the mornings. In Texas, morning comes about 6 AM in the summer and 7 in the winter, and evening at about 8:30 PM in the summer and 6 in the winter. At the height of this summer, it was getting daylight about 4 AM and stayed light until after 9. My memories of living in Michigan are that it was dark in the winter until about 7 AM, but here it is definitely daylight in the winter earlier than that. That might be because of the time zones.

We have had difficulty adjusting to having light come into our windows so early in the morning. Unfortunately, our bedroom faces east, and the sun blasts in even before it is over the treetops. In fact, if we didn’t have a line of huge conifers behind the house, it would be much worse. We have black-out curtains everywhere except across the sliding glass door, because I couldn’t find the right size. My husband bought a blind to put outside that door, but he hasn’t hung it yet, partly because I think he bought one that is too large. It will cover the sliding glass door and both windows, and I don’t want to cover the windows, which have black-out curtains on them, because I want to be able to get air into the room at night. So, we still have the sun blasting through the curtains on the sliding glass door every morning.

Scenery. Austin, with its hills, creeks, trees, and river, was pretty enough, but it is gorgeous here. We are surrounded by huge trees, with views of mountains on clear days. We’re up on a hill with a view of our pond and woods. We can barely see our neighbors. And this is just from our house. Every drive we take we discover more to look at.

Traffic and driving. In Texas, people drive fast, probably because the state is so big it takes forever to get across it. Here, some people drive fast but lots don’t. After all, we’re in the country, and comparatively speaking, there is no traffic. I also have to keep reminding myself that I don’t have anywhere to get in a hurry. I’ve been consciously slowing myself down. (My husband has had less success in this regard.) However, I have noticed some little driving idiosyncrasies here. The main highway on our way home is four lanes in Battle Ground, then it is down to two lanes, and after about a mile it has an extra passing lane. Then it is back down to two lanes. I keep getting behind people who drive very slowly, like at least 10 miles an hour under the speed limit, on the two-lane road, but then when the passing lane comes up so that I can pass them, they speed up so that I can’t. Then as soon as we are back to two lanes, they slow down again. That is frustrating.

But the odder thing, the thing I can’t figure out at all, is what I call the white stripers. These are the people who drive up the highway with their right two wheels straddling the white line so that their wheels are actually on the shoulder. I have seen this time and again, and I haven’t seen it anywhere else. I have no idea what they think they are doing or why they would drive like that.

But traffic? No, there isn’t any really, except for the double dump trucks that are busy disassembling the mountain nearby. We don’t like them.

Logging. A sad thing about this area is that if a property changes hands, in most cases the first thing that happens is all the trees are logged. I mean all the trees. I mean utter destruction and devastation, with piles of trash lying around on the ground for months afterwards. It is horrible to see and so bad for the environment. But the people around here are loggers. See a tree, cut it down. Although some of them will plant a few trees on the property after they build their house, many of them won’t. In fact, they really like to decorate with rocks. And I am sure that many of them need the money from the trees in order to afford the house that they put up. Still, many lots in our area that were wooded when we moved here are now scenes of total destruction. This is really a contrast for me. I remember that when we were kids, our family bought a wooded lot, and our parents went around with the builders and marked every single tree that the builders were allowed to cut down to build the house. I’m sure it was difficult for the builders, but we didn’t want to end up with a treeless lot.

Religion. Here’s the biggest oddity of this area. Unknowingly, we have moved into the hotbed of a sect of a sect, that is, Old Apostolic Lutheranism. I did some reading after we got here, and this county has the highest concentration of members of this church in the country. I tried reading about their beliefs, but I don’t really understand what the Wikipedia page is talking about. Their practices are another thing—in particular, that they take really seriously the “be fruitful and multiply” part of the bible. I think we have at least three apostolic families in our neighborhood. Our neighbors across the road are one of them, and they have 17 children. I was really surprised when I met them to find that they are only in their 40’s. They get married really young, and then they have children every year. Those neighbors’ kids, in particular, are considered the scourge of the neighborhood. They are always making a lot of noise. Lately, they’ve been shooting guns all day every day. We’re talking eight-year-olds, here.

Basically, most of the boys go straight out of high school into a trade. In fact, they’ve all been working really hard before they get official jobs. I think I mentioned that the kids across the street are the ones who cut and sold us our firewood. This means we have lots of very capable and hard-working people around here, especially in the building trades. I am fairly sure that our contractors are from that religion, although we never talked about it. The girls get married and become mothers. I don’t think very many people in our county go to college.

These people are descendants of the original settlers of this area, who were from Scandinavia. Old Apostolic Lutheranism came out of Sweden, but we also have a lot of Finns in the area that belong to the church as well. Our contractors are of Finnish descent. Finns are good wood workers, which is one reason they constituted a large portion of the population of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where long ago they engineered the copper mines. (I lived there for a year long ago.) My understanding is that a lot of the people up there are also Old Apostolic Lutherans.

I think this is all very interesting, and so far the only down side is that the schools around here are known for bullying by the OAL kids toward the other kids. My niece heard about that before her kids started school. In fact, standing in line at the post office, an OAL mother told her not to send her quirky red-headed daughter to the Yacolt school or she would be bullied. So, she is home-schooled part-time and goes to school two days a week in Battle Ground. Next week, my little great-nephew is starting preschool on the same schedule.

Anyway, it is odd to me, coming from a city, where the largest churches are usually Catholic, Methodist, and in the south, Baptist, to find that what I consider the more usual religions have very small churches out here, whereas there are three really big (for the country) Old Apostolic Lutheran churches in the immediate area, and their parking lots are packed on Sundays and some other days, sometimes at rather odd times, like last Friday at 10 AM.

So, you can see that there are some things here that are very different for us.

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Bye bye bye

Wednesday was my last day at my workplace, a large state agency in Austin, Texas. An incident the week before I left kind of typified my experiences during the past few years.

As the lone technical writer in a large IT organization, I didn’t belong to any one team. I should have belonged to all the teams, since I did work for all of them. I wrote the Help for about 30 different software applications, did other editing and writing work, and taught writing classes to the agency. For one project, I read every single page of our web site and worked with the many content authors to try to improve their writing. I also belonged to a department, one in which all the other members are business analysts. Believe me, it has always been all about the business analysts. In short, instead of belonging to all the teams, I belonged to none.

So long, large ugly building.
So long, large ugly building.

So, a typical event. Along with the other people in my department, last week I was invited to a birthday lunch for a coworker, which I accepted. When the time came, I looked around and could not find any of them. They left without me. I knew where they were going, but I do not usually have a car at work, so I could not follow. This group included my boss, and the department only has six people in it, so I wasn’t overlooked because of the sheer number of people involved. Not only that, but they only sit one row away from me in our cube farm. No one stuck a head around the corner and asked me if I was going. Need I point out that this was the last chance any of them would have had to go to lunch with me?

Individually, these are all nice people. They just seldom treated me as part of their group.

A few weeks ago, too, I got a talking-to by my boss, who said someone had complained that I made too many personal phone calls. Aside from there being no rule about personal phone calls, the actual truth is that usually I go for months making no phone calls at all. It’s just that with the house sale, and the moving, and the storage unit, and the packing, I have had to make many in a short period of time. You would think that anyone could understand that. When I was telling another manager about it, he said, “I never hear a peep out of you.” Our division actually usually doesn’t care about things like that, but we’re sitting next to another division that does. But let’s not say anything about the interminable vapid conversations I have to listen to every day from the cube next to me in the other division (and snoring, when that person falls asleep, several times a week). I guess having personal conversations is okay as long as you aren’t doing personal business on the phone. I guess sleeping is okay, too.

Pay is also a big issue for me here, because for the past six years I have received a rating of five out of five on my reviews but have only had one raise. Part of the time we had a wage freeze, but when we didn’t have one, attention was not paid to the fact that my pay had fallen behind that of other employees who used to make less than me (even after I pointed it out to them). I do the work that was done by four writers when I started here. I stay on schedule and deliver quality work. I knew that coming to work for the state would mean taking a pay cut, but for the first few years I worked here, it looked like I would eventually recover the pay rate I was making before I started. I did not. 15 years ago I was making $10K more than I make now. Thank god for the benefits, which continue after I retire.

A friend at work has urged me to write a “f–k you” essay about our workplace, but this is about as close as I can get. I know it’s not funny. She could have done a much better job of entertaining you all, because she is hilarious. Let’s just say, I’m glad to be finally getting the f–k out of Dodge.