I really have to get better at photo documentation of the projects around here. This week we tackled one of two overgrown planting beds in front of our house.
Here is what the planting bed looked like when we first had it landscaped. Aren’t those plants cute?
Here’s another view from the upstairs deck. You can barely tell that there are two palm trees in there. The bushes all look lost.
After 6 years and the addition of a sago palm as an accent plant in the front of the bed, the picture isn’t as pretty. The bed closest to the street looks like this.
The one closer to the house is also a big disaster. Sometimes I think that landscapers should be shot. What was he thinking when he put that many plants into the beds? Either start with much bigger plants or warn the homeowner that half of them need to go!
Out came the bypass loppers, the pickax, the chainsaw and the shovel. The two palm trees were planted much too close together. The bigger one needed to move to the back of the bed, and the sago palm which is no longer the size of a tidy houseplant needed to be placed front and center. The variegated Golden Euonymus needed to be replanted. The crepe myrtle was invisible and had to be moved to the back yard. We have been hacking at those plants for years, but we never addressed the main problem – there were just too many of them out there!
I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to relocate a palm tree. I guess we waited too long. A friend of ours with a nursery said the trees have a small root ball and that they were “easy” to move. Easy is relative, he owns a bobcat. We dug them up by hand… and found out that the fire ant nest there that we thought we had killed was still active. JOY! That was a nasty surprise. Anyway, once we got the root balls dug, it became evident that two people couldn’t budge them an inch.
Why does gardening at the beach require tow straps and a pickup truck? I will never know. The long and short of it is that we had to drag the trees using the truck to their new homes. I wish I captured pictures of this endeavor. It was quite exciting!
In the end, the front island now looks much better. It is still awaiting some pansies and a thick coat of mulch for the winter, but it is almost done! I hope that we didn’t upset the palm trees too much with the relocation.
We’ve been in our house for 3 weeks now. You’d think that would be enough to get the house in order, but unfortunately I am sitting in a living room full of hardwood flooring boxes, miscellaneous boxes that haven’t been unpacked yet, a queen sized mattress and only two chairs. Huh. The weather has been beautiful, but I haven’t made it out onto the beach to enjoy it either. Something is terribly wrong with this picture. Well, at least I have cable TV, internet, and a sangria in my hand. Beggars can’t be choosers.
It gets worse. I’m still living out of the same duffle bag worth of clothing that I brought to our temporary living quarters. My dresser has not made it out of storage yet (not accessible) so there is no point in bringing the boxes of clothing to the house either.
Sadly, that’s not the half of it. I sold our old stove the weekend Irene hit North Carolina and my new stove is who the hell knows where. Cooking has become quite an adventure. If it can’t be made in an electric skillet, toaster oven, or microwave we ain’t eating it. It’s almost like camping, but there aren’t as many bugs. Well, except for the fruit flies that came with a bunch of bananas that I haven’t been able to get rid of. I digress. At least there is air conditioning.
Ok, so it isn’t all THAT bad. It’s a labor of love turning a house into a real home. The cheapo “rental” washer and dryer have been sold and replaced with my efficient front loader pair (that was a bitch to get up the stairs!). My new Bosch dishwasher arrived and is installed (thanks Honey!) and humming along oh so quietly. The under cabinet microwave was removed, the tile work has been completed and the new stainless steel hood has been plumbed and installed (thanks AGAIN Honey!). Most of my kitchen implements have been found and have been put into their respective places. Heck, the bar is even setup. Kitchen and bathroom floors have been cleaned and bleached. The garage is in pretty good shape. The master bedroom, bath, and office have been painted and mostly setup. We are even sleeping on our preferred mattress(YAY!) although there were a few trying nights in bunk beds(@#$#%!!!).
Now we’re focusing on the guest bedrooms. First step – hardwood flooring and fresh paint (ok, that’s two steps). The Oyster Festival is coming up in mid-October and we need to be ready for a party weekend by then. We have a bunch of friends ready to come visit. 5 week countdown. If the last 3 weeks are any indication, it’s going to be tight. So far only 1/2 of one bedroom floor has hardwood floors installed. We bought prefinished floors (Mullican – so far GORGEOUS!) and we (I use that word loosely – I have been hiding in the office so far) are installing them ourselves. It looks like it will take about 6 days per guest room and we have 4 of them. That’s 24 out of 35 days. One day to rip up the skanky old carpeting and moulding. One day to paint the ceiling and put down the felt paper. Two days (hopefully) to install the hardwoods. One day to install the moulding and paint it and last but not least, one day to paint the walls and move in the furniture. Luckily there are two of us and we can overlap on the rooms. My job, as always, is paint.
On a morbidly bright note… since my dad has been in assisted living I’ve been the protector of mom’s ashes. I’m pleased to say that she (as well as my first cat Moo) have made it out of storage. Is that sick or what?
I was delighted to read my horoscope today:
If you want something done right, do it yourself. That may be your mantra today. If you ask for assistance you may find that your would-be helpers do a half-hearted job at best. For a variety of reasons, some of your friends and associates just aren’t fully present today, so you will have to rely on yourself to get things going. But don’t worry – even though you may feel let down at first, the help you need will be there in due time. Meanwhile get started and move forward with determination, and you will set an excellent example.
I don’t put a lot of stock in horoscopes. I consider them to be silly entertainment at best, but this one was appropriate for a number of reasons. First of all, I didn’t read my horoscope until AFTER I had decided to “do it myself”. Today I started power washing our sidewalk and driveway and that is a job I really am not feeling happy to do. This came about after receiving a $1600 quote yesterday (holy crap!) to have someone else do it. Ouch. We rarely pay anyone to do anything, but we thought just maybe if it was cheap enough we’d pay someone to power wash. Eh, not so much. I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to do this chore again. I did it once before a few years ago. Our driveway is 250′ long and it can take 3-4 days to power wash the entire thing. It’s a cold undertaking when the weather isn’t downright hot out. Besides, it is an awfully dirty job. The vibration also leaves me with the grip strength of a 3 month old baby. Ah well, one day down, maybe I can pawn off the rest of the work on my husband. My horoscope did say something about help arriving when I need it – didn’t it?
Seriously, I think that is a lesson that we all can learn. Right now I’m not doing a terribly great job myself. I have an end goal in mind, and it is something that I want to get to before the end of April. That doesn’t allow for much pacing I’m afraid. Actually I have two end goals. 1) Get our house listed for sale. (Spring is the best time!) 2) Get the other property ready for beach rental season. The second one has a slightly longer time frame – that needs to be done by the end of May.
Getting a house ready for sale is a daunting task, it requires peering into every nook and cranny and figuring out how to make it look appealing and not repulsive. That is the reason why I had been focusing on those two damn closets in the master bedroom – they were chaos, pure and simple. Now it looks like two anally retentive people live in our house. My closets never looked so good. While I was waiting for the various coats of paint to dry I’ve cleaned out nearly every other closet in the house and I repainted and “staged” the dining room. It looked ‘ok’ before, but the paint color was a little polarizing so I figured my best bet was to change it to a creamy off-white. Neutral sells, or so they say. I actually really like the way it turned out.
Now I’m onto the master bathroom. I repainted it a year or so ago and replaced a lot of hardware, but at the time I avoided the shower like the plague. Payback time. I’ll be regrouting the shower shortly. Today my mind is addled from inhaling bleach fumes. Who needs to drink alcohol when you can kill just as many brain cells with chlorine gas. Whew! Mold always seems to grow in bad grout work. I’m on a time table here too – the glass enclosure has been torn down and a new one is on order. It is supposed to take 2 weeks and a week is already gone. Tick tock, my time to grout is running out. Once this is done I have to tackle the garage and the kitchen.
By the time I’m done with this little exercise I might not actually want to sell the house anymore, but longer term it is a necessity. Actually, I really don’t want to sell the house. It has been the best house we’ve ever lived in, but it is too big for a retirement pad.
Well, I think this lifestyle change is going to stick. It has now officially been three months since we made the switch in our household. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would go vegan. I always had some issues with eating meat, but it never stopped me. I *loved* milk products and eggs. (can you say scrambled eggs and cheese?) Going vegan was a totally foreign concept to me. Then I got sick and I also learned I couldn’t tolerate milk products. I started to read more about food. I read The China Study and watched Supersize Me. I know a lot of people have issues with some of the studies in The China Study, but it profoundly impacted how I think about food and how food can impact cancer risk.
I had no idea what a difference it would make. Here are some examples – my cholesterol was a health 186 when I started. I recently had it checked again. Wow, down to 142. My husband’s blood pressure and cholesterol have taken similar nose dives as well. Both of us have lost weight. I dropped 13lbs and he’s down 25lbs. All of these changes happened before I retired, so that clearly wasn’t the cause.
The beautiful thing about all those wonderful changes is that they didn’t come at the cost of typical dieting. I am never hungry. I no longer track every morsel I eat in order to count calories (that plus exercise was my secret to staying slim). I don’t need to do these things anymore – ok I do exercise, but I don’t think that will ever stop – I love to feel strong and healthy. I eat as much as I want of the healthy things in our house and I’m now at the weight I was at in my early 20s. The last time I got down to this weight I was really trying hard to get there. This time, not so much. I even have dessert most nights. I’ve learned how to bake tasty cupcakes and breads without any eggs or milk.
The switch wasn’t easy, but I think that anyone can do it with a little bit of attitude adjustment toward the food industry.
Starting a new job always means getting to know the company that you now work for. The company also has to get to know you too. Everyone is usually on their best behavior during the interview – and this does not just mean the interviewee. As a company, when you have a good candidate, you want to show off the team in its best light as well. Once the new person starts, there typically is a nice honeymoon period. In some ways it is like dating someone new – you’re focusing on all of the good things to justify your decisions (both on the hiring and on the deciding to work there sides). During this honeymoon period a lot of time and energy is spent on learning.
When I was an engineer starting a new job my focus was always on the technology. I almost always came into companies that were launching new products. In this respect I was really fortunate. I was part of the team that was defining the design, and a lot of times the technologies that were being used. That didn’t mean that there wasn’t anything new and different to learn right up front. For example – almost every company that I have ever worked for used a different code management system. I’ve used proprietary, PVCS, Clearcase, CVS, and Perforce. On the bug tracking side I’ve used ddts, bugzilla, and devtrack. I’ve utilized a number of programming language environments, and dealt with a lot of different processors and operating systems. The good news is that unless you’re coming in as the architect of a large project the scope of what you need to learn is rather focused. You will own something specific and hopefully manageable.
As a manager the scope of the things to learn is much greater. Not only do you need to have a high level understanding of the technology and the product you are building, you need to understand some of the more amorphous details.
Who are you managing? Did any of them aspire to the job you were hired to do? Are any of them unhappy and looking to leave? Any performance problems to suss out? How do you build trust? When you lead them, will they follow?
But this is just the beginning. Who are you peers? How do you need to interact with them?
Still not enough – what other groups are stakeholders in the technology you are managing? Project managers. Product managers. Sales. Marketing. Consulting.
It’s time to drink from the fire hose.
Today I am going to do something that I’ve totally shied away from while I’ve been looking for a job. I’m going to write about an interview that I had this week. Yes, really. Part of my brain is still screaming “NOOOO don’t do it!”, but I’m going to override that. Hopefully that’s not a bad idea, but here goes.
First off, this is a position that I really, really want. Since I’ve been interviewing it is one of only a very few that I have been very excited about. This isn’t pretend excited, this is chomping at the bit to get started excited. I was beginning to wonder if such a job exists or not… well, it does.
The reason for this post is because I learned something completely new and different. I’ve done a lot of interviewing. I mean a LOT. I’ve probably personally interviewed well over 100 people. I’ve asked technical questions, I’ve asked behavioral question, I’ve made people really squirm. On the other side of the interview table, I’ve learned to answer questions with stories about my past rather than general feel good statements. This week I learned an interview technique that applies extremely well when you are interviewing for a role that has many different interpretations. Ask the interviewee to present what the role means to them in 10 minutes or less. SO Simple. Duh! I should have thought of this!
Actually, it’s a little more than that:
- Describe what you think that this role is
- Describe how you’d approach this particular role in this company
- Describe what makes you uniquely qualified for this role
So simple. But yet, so effective. I put together 8 slides and presented them to a panel of interviewers who then asked me questions about my background and my presentation. It was a quick, effective way to get to understand how a person would approach a job. I’m going to remember this for when I am interviewing to fill positions again.
So, you’re probably wondering… how did my interview go? I’m cautiously optimistic. My one regret is that I wasn’t able to sit down with everyone individually. It is much harder for me to make a connection with people when I am talking to a roomful. I don’t know how much that hurt me.
As the economy is starting to turn around, a lot of companies are going to get back into a hiring mode. Since it’s probably been a while since you’ve had to think about this stuff, I thought it would be good to put together a list of pointers to help you make sure that a new person has the worst possible on-boarding experience ever.
- Leave the person sitting unattended for hours at a time – Nothing says you’re insignificant and we don’t really care that you’re part of our team like this one. If you tell them that you want to meet with them first thing in the morning on their first day – make sure to show up at least an hour late. They can cool their heels in the receptionist area waiting. You know you have more important things to do.
- Ignore the person’s background when you provide training – Just because everyone is different doesn’t mean you need to customize how you bring them up to speed. It’s much easier to just train everyone the same way regardless of what they know. So what if it is frustrating for someone that really knows what they are doing – or is too complicated for someone who has never done the job before.
- Forget them around lunchtime – This one is especially entertaining if the person is new to the area and has no idea where to go to get some food on their first day. Leaving them behind at lunch is a great way to be able to talk about how annoying it is to train the new guy.
- Don’t have their computer systems and accounts setup – This is best for people whose jobs really depend on computer access. Give them some out of date printouts to read while they wait a week (or more) for their computer to show up. Nothing says loving like dry hardcopy in an 8pt font.
- Give them the worst desk and chair in the office – Especially effective if you can find a “trick” chair that has a habit of tipping over or has a bad pneumatic lift mechanism.
- Don’t provide them with a buddy – Buddies get bothered with all of the stupid questions. If you don’t provide one, the new hire will have to figure everything out for themselves.
- Make sure to hit on your new coworker – This doesn’t scream “awkward situation” for a new person trying to learn their way around their new office and among their new coworkers.
Clearly I’m being facetious with my advice, but I’ve had all of these things happen to me at one time or another when I’ve started a new job. Here’s hoping that my next position won’t provide me with a new way to expand my list!