Sunday, July 15, 2012

An Eclectic Review of Recent Scramblings

My computer died the day after my paper was due. I was expecting it actually because it's been having power problems for months, and I just kept praying (literally) that my computer would survive my dissertation. Which it did, very kindly. I think it will be mostly fixed with the purchase of a new power cord, but typically, I haven't gotten around to it yet. Thus my jubilant facebook post post-dissertation (using words such as "hello world" and "reemergence") was mostly deceptive. My tangible world saw a reemergence - I have been far more social than I had been between January and June - but the online world...through blog, facebook, and email...has had to do pretty much without me. I'm sure it has been surviving just fine.

Nonetheless, I am stealing a few moments on Dave's computer to write what has to be an eclectic post about various facets of life. It has been 15 days now since the day my dissertation was due, and a full three weeks since I submitted the dissertation to my department and the Cambridge bindery. I can't describe very well what that felt like. It was mostly terrifying. The word that kept running through my head was "impetuous." I was so determined to submit the paper by the evening of the 24th that I didn't even read through my entire dissertation before hitting the send button. I had read through it a lot throughout the weekend, yes, but I had always stopped to make changes and sometimes those changes were extensive. As a result, when I should have felt nothing but relief and been doing nothing but grinning stupidly from ear to ear, I just felt rather foolhardy and, like I said, impetuous. I kept thinking, "I had another full week! Why couldn't I have come home from work on Monday, read through my paper once carefully and thoroughly, and then have sent it off to the publishers!" Because I had already told everyone in the world that I would be done before Monday. And because the bindery only accepts orders on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And because I wanted so, so badly to be done. I still haven't read my paper over since I have submitted it. I'm still hoping desperately that there isn't some glaring error on page 32 of 50.

Don't worry; the feeling of fool-hardy impetuousness wore off in a couple of days. And then I felt a delicious freedom and began delighting in all of the things I could finally do again. Top of the list: read a book that was NOT written in the 1600s (or, to be fair, a book that was written about books written in the 1600s). I had started the Hobbit (which I had never read) while I was in Utah for my sister-in-law's wedding a couple of months ago and I finally got to finish it. Fabulous book! I've been devouring whatever book I can get my hands on ever since. I also looked forward to having friends over, to going out to lunch with work friends instead of remaining at my desk to work furiously on my own paper for an hour, to playing my flute, painting, cleaning (funny that I would miss having control over my house), making dinner for my husband, having Saturdays to get out of the house and do anything!, watching movies, going swimming.

On the other hand, I did pass through a phase of loss. I missed having something so completely worthwhile to work on. I missed feeling like my time was spent doing something fascinating, meaningful and important. I began to wonder how to measure the productivity of my days.

Thankfully, my new-found freedom is not overly aimless. There were two particularly important things that loomed even after my dissertation was finished: buying our first house and preparing for our first baby. The house-buying process has gone on and on. Poor David is absolutely sick of it, and I don't blame him. We started looking at the very beginning of May and Dave has had to carry the brunt of the online house hunting, the in-person house viewing, the number crunching, the paper signing and the decision making. I wrote about our first house previously on this blog and after the inspection fell through and we backed out of that contract, we thought about or actually proceeded to place offers on several other houses. One house had twenty offers already, at least six of which were all-cash offers $20,000 above asking price. There was no way we could compete with that. We offered on another house and did everything we could do to persuade the owners and their Realtor to accept the offer (we even sent a personal note with the offer describing why we liked the house and would care for it and raise our family there) and we lost to a cash investor who had never even seen the property. The first Saturday after I submitted my dissertation, David and I spent five hours driving all over the valley with our Realtor looking at 8 different houses. I think we killed our poor Realtor (who is a wonderful, upper-middle class, upper middle-aged woman) because by the time we were finished with the eight houses, it was probably 120 degrees outside and so, so hot. We owe her one for that marathon! We are about 95% of the way to owning one of the houses we looked at that day, but it has been a tense, frustrating two weeks as we have tried to out-maneuver the other bidders, waited for an appraisal that was most likely going to come back far lower than our bid, waited for the owners to grant us an extension to the inspection period or risk going without an inspection at all, and watched the 30-day-notice deadline for leaving our apartment complex at the end of our lease creep steadily closer. After the disappointment of our first home, we have tried to stay as detached as possible from this one. I have only seen it once (on our marathon day) and don't know a lot about the house - like where the washer and dryer are located (on the important end) or whether the house has a popcorn ceiling (on the less important end). Thankfully, the house passed the appraisal and we are now in the underwriting period. I think David has decided he's never going to buy a house again, but thankfully, it looks like this process for this little first home of ours is finally coming to a close. Once the underwriting is complete, we will be closing on August 3rd, leaving two weeks to move-in before the end of our lease and a month and a half or so before the baby comes. 

Speaking of baby, it has finally hit me. It's not easy to ignore the first six months of pregnancy, so it's not that I was completely oblivious, but a few days after my dissertation was submitted, I was walking through my living room and looking at some of the baby girl things my friend had given us. I suddenly felt a sense of panic and realized that in less than three months, my entire life would be changing dramatically. I felt extremely unprepared for the delivery that was quickly approaching, for the temporal care I would have to provide a newborn, and for the emotional strength that I would be required to exhibit. We have started working on the temporal care aspect - my baby showers here in AZ and possibly UT are now planned (mostly) and my wonderful, wonderful sisters-in-law sent me a long list of items and commentary in order of "must-haves." I feel so overwhelmed by the amount of products that are available and completely clueless about how to make informed decisions about what will be best for our family. The advice of close loved-ones has certainly helped instill (a bit of) confidence. Still, Dave and I headed out last night to start a baby registry (only because I was becoming tired of the shocked looks I received when I admitted we hadn't registered anywhere) and we both stood gaping at the aisles full of millions of types and brands. How is ignorant me supposed to decide between (for one particularly illustrative example) wide bottles with more natural nipples, standard bottles that are easier for baby to hold, drop-in bottles which reduce bubbles, or angled bottles for upright feeding? I have absolutely no idea what I will prefer or what my baby will like best. Isn't the point of a baby shower to bring all the experienced mothers together to provide the things that their experience has found to be best? Registering feels completely counter-intuitive to me. 

I realize that complete emotional preparation for the arrival of a baby is impossible, but it has been amazing how much it has helped to be done with my schooling. I am looking ahead to the end of September now, instead of to the 1st of July. I am grateful for this time to prepare. It is shocking to me that I came back from England almost exactly one year ago. Time has flown - I feel like it was just yesterday that I was saying my goodbyes there and meeting Dave here. I can't believe that that chapter of my life is over. I feel grateful for that year I had in England, hard as it was in many ways. I feel so grateful that I am back and that I was able to complete all of research and writing here in Arizona. God bless the people who have spent hours and hours scanning primary archival documents from seventeenth-century England into online databases. I could never have done it without their diligent work and I have been very, very aware of how easy my research has been compared to the generations of scholars who have spent most of their lives in dusty library archival rooms carefully turning brittle pages in search of prime material. I loved my topic, I felt very good about the work that I submitted and I feel enriched by the things I learned and the conclusions I made. I feel blessed to have made the friends that I did in England and know that I am a wiser and better person because of the experiences I had while I was there. I am looking forward to the new chapter of life that is beginning - the favorable outlook doesn't change the underlying terror I feel when I think of undertaking motherhood, but I am working up a stalwart feeling that I hope will see me through as successfully as during my difficult, but absolutely wonderful, time in England.   

Friday, June 1, 2012


Okay, so we don't have a house queued and waiting yet like I thought we would. But back when I was envisioning our little lives moving into the house we were planning to buy, I realized that painting equals freedom. I have had many friends ask me how I plan to decorate the nursery: what will be your theme? What colors have you chosen? etc. These always struck me as funny questions. My parents kept their newborns in a very small crib in the walk-in closet in their room. This seemed natural to me - the closet was very dark, very quiet and very close to my mom. I guess most of me just assumed I'd settle my newborn in a closet somewhere too! We have thought about nursery options in this apartment, just in case we can't find a house. Our apartment is a two bedroom, but the second bedroom is a much needed study/computer area where David works every day. We really can't sacrifice that work space for a baby (who needs much less space incidentally). If we end up staying here longer than planned, we will move our bed to the side of the bedroom and put the crib in an empty corner of our room (or the closet?). No need to decorate a nursery if baby is borrowing a corner of your own bedroom.

It wasn't until we (theoretically) had a three bedroom house that I started thinking about a real nursery. After all, the house we were purchasing desperately required a new coat of paint on every wall to clean up the dirty, nicked, dingy walls. If we had to paint the room anyway, I might as well decorate too, right? Not that I had any plans. Babies, toddlers, young children never got their own room in my house growing up (I loved it that way, by the way) so I really have no decorating precedent. Then I completely accidentally stumbled upon a baby girl's nursery that I LOVED. Thing is....

It's BLUE!!

Am I crazy for wanting to do it?  It's not really blue - technically it's grey. But it sure looks like a gorgeous, understated light blue:

Somehow it still looks very feminine, right? I found the pictures on a blog called Jones Design Company and you can see her full nursery post here. She also posted the paint color (Behr Rhino):

I kind of like the Benjamin Moore Silver Lake color as well, posted by another decorating blogger:

Like the bedroom pictures above, I can see the wall color going with accents of white, dusty rose, mustard yellow, dark tarnished platinum... mmmmm.

What about Narnia line illustrations from the original publications in dark platinum colored frames on the walls?

Yes, I completely adore it. 

Of course, we're not at a stage in life where we can make everything match a decorating scheme (another reason I've always found the nursery question funny). My rocking chair, for example, is an ugly, threadbare, maroon and teal Lay-Z-Boy chair that we purchased from Craigslist for $20.00 a few years ago. It will go with nothing at all, but it's comfy :) I'm pretty sure the chair itself ruins any dreams of a gorgeous nursery like the one above. But hey, I can still paint the walls and hang some pictures, right?

Thursday, May 24, 2012


I love Easter's meaning, don't get me wrong. But it's Christmas that really moves me. That's the way it was for me as a child - I have vivid memories of still Christmas nights watching the lights of the Christmas tree and the dying embers of the fire. Those warm, soft, awestruck nights taught me what it meant to feel the Spirit of God. It's also the way it was for me in Jerusalem. I had soft, spiritual moments in the "authentic" Garden of Gethsemane and I thought the Garden Tomb was beautiful, but one of my most gripping spiritual moments occurred in the Church of the Nativity, singing Christmas hymns.

Maybe the peace and comfort I feel during Christmas season is the reason I finally switched on my "Christmas Soft" playlist during my writing sessions. I am able to let it play softly in the background while I write and it doesn't distract me. It may even help inspire me (that's the hope, right?). Yes, it's May and I am normally fairly strict about keeping Christmas music to the Christmas season. That's what helps to make it special! Dissertation writing is fairly special itself though...

The Wexford Carol came on tonight and about 1/3 of the way through I heard it. Really heard it. Stopped-everything-and-listened heard it. It's beautiful! Even Dave, who was passing through the room while it was playing, stopped and asked me to turn it up so he could listen too. They just don't make songs like this for normal times of the year!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


New experience #2: House buying.

Sort of.        As in, sort of buying a house.

We're looking at the bottom of our price range right now instead of the top for lots of different reasons.

  • We can. When you can buy 50 - 80,000 homes, why go for 120 or 130?
  • Rental prices are rising and it sounds really attractive to pay only a portion of what we are currently paying for rent each month. And earn equity at the same time. And be the kind of independent that comes from owning your own home.
  • We aren't planning to stay in this house more than a few years and we don't want to trust the "rising" house market completely. If we have to leave Arizona and can't get rid of the house, we don't want to worry about stressful mortgage payments. We can handle paying a few hundred dollars each month while we wait for the house to sell.
  • We haven't decided yet what my work situation will be after the baby comes. We want to maintain the flexibility for me to stay home if I want to. 
  • David has the opportunity to start a master's degree at ASU for basically nothing. Probably silly to pass that one up, but it would mean a cut in hours while he takes classes. We want to be able to pay our mortgage comfortably even if I'm not working and Dave is working reduced hours.
It's true that a few of the cheaper homes in the area are pretty scary. But it's also true that there are some very nice homes that are selling for cheaper than my parents' first home purchased 20 years ago. We had started considering houses in that price range over a year ago and found some very promising prospects

The market is a little different now, though. Banks are starting to hold onto empty houses while they wait for prices to start rising, as they currently seem likely to do. The rising rental prices all over the valley mean that: 
  1. Lots of investors are swooping in to sweep up properties that are for sale. They can rent them now for a hefty price each month then sell when the market has corrected itself. Most of these investors are coming with full-cash offers. 
  2. Renters (like David and me) are hoping to buy and thereby save money each month (see bullet number two above). 
For the first time in a long time down here in AZ, the house demand is greater than the house supply. This means that we're fighting against other offers and that we have to move fast, unlike last year when we had plenty of time to ponder and make careful decisions.

So, knowing all of this going in, we actually found a house that we both felt good about. It isn't particularly nice to look at from the outside or the inside. The walls are filthy and dinged up and desperately need paint, and the carpets definitely needed replacing. The previous owners of the house had taken their foreclosure frustrations out on the doors and the toilets, though thankfully they hadn't punched serious holes in the walls. We figured that doors were easy enough to replace. The house also needs all new appliances. 

But we thought, "those are surface repairs. We can do all that." And our current loan plan allows us to pay a small down-payment, leaving plenty of savings leftover for repairs. 

There were several things that attracted us to the house. The first is that compared to all the other houses we had seen, this one just feels good. We can envision what it can look like after a good scrubbing and after we paint and lay down new carpet. We can envision ourselves living there and being comfortable. We also really like the floor plan of the house. It isn't a modern floor plan with a big great room, but the bedrooms are grouped together in a way that feels close (but not too close), there is no living room (ie, no useless space that I wouldn't know what to do with), there is a good-sized family room with a vaulted ceiling that feels spacious and comfortable. It can also be seen from the kitchen. There is a covered patio out back and the backyard feels clean. There are no neighbors directly across from the back fence. There is also a mountain view, which was unexpected, but definitely a plus! 

One of the things that really attracted us to the house was the interviews with the neighbors. We talked to people on some of the streets around the home, and they seemed friendly and were enthusiastic about the neighborhood. We also talked to the next-door neighbor, a 70-ish-year-old widow who teared up when she told us she had just passed the year mark from the day her husband had died. As the longest-remaining resident on the street (33 years), she called herself the "Mayor of [Street Name Road]." She could point to each house and tell us who lived in each one. She could also tell us the history of our house and informed us that every morning since the house has gone vacant she has watered the roses in the front yard (that one stumped the inspector - he couldn't figure out where the water was coming from!). I really love the idea that the neighbors on the street know each other and talk to each other. I love the idea that when I am at home during the day with the baby, there can be others nearby who are home too (the Mayor is not the only widow on the street, and there are several other families around with children). By the time I left the house for the first time, I surprised Dave by being even more enthusiastic than he had been when he had first seen the house. 

Not that it's perfect. The washer and dryer are in a closet on the back patio. The streets immediately surrounding the house are clean and well-kept, but the wider neighborhood is not nearly so well-cared for. I had to decide if the wall graffiti on some of the roads leading to the house meant that a few people had little deference for public property but meant no real harm or if it meant that there were gangs, for example, marking their territory. Kind of a nerve-wracking thought! 

But each visit to the house felt good to both of us, so we put down our offer. So did two other buyers. 

We gave the bank the best price we could have - higher than asking price but still within our comfort zone - and we won the bid. The closing date is July 6, which gives us a month and a half to fix the place up and move in before our lease expires. The timing couldn't be more perfect, since the closing date lands a week past my essay due date and gets us settled into the home a month before the baby is set to arrive. All engines go. 

Unfortunately, as of this morning we have all the variables. We were SO pleased with our inspector. He was professional, genuine, thorough and very, very knowledgeable. His thoroughness and knowledge helped him find everything wrong with the house. As Dave put it later: "Our house is going to flood, burn down and get eaten away by termites all at the same time." I had been bracing myself for a less-than-positive inspection. After all, this is a house that was built in the 70s and has been sitting empty for a while. We knew there would be termite damage. We didn't know there would be that much termite damage. And we didn't know that the grade of the lot slopes into the house instead of away from it, meaning that moisture continually eats away at the foundations. We also didn't know that no one has ever bothered to replace the aluminum wires in the house, which means that the chance the old, faulty wires will suddenly catch fire is actually quite high. The repair would require ALL of the wires in the house to be completely torn out and replaced. The inspector estimated that that fix alone would cost us $4000 - $6000. With everything that would need fairly immediate attention, Dave and I are suddenly looking at about $20,000 of repairs right from the outset. We have money saved, but not THAT kind of money. (Note: the bank is selling as is, so it would be useless to ask them to contribute to those kinds of costs - we wish!  We really, really wish!)

Needless to say, we're a bit disappointed. We have both been cautious and haven't let ourselves get so attached to this house that we can't back out now. But it is daunting to consider starting over again from scratch, especially when there were so many "intangibles" (like the neighbors, like the perfect timing) that felt so good and might be very difficult to find again. We haven't told the bank no yet, but it would certainly be foolish for us to try to go ahead and do one repair at a time. See all the bullet points above. If we wanted to spend that kind of money, we might as well be looking for a nice, newer 130,000 home. At least then the money would be part of a mortgage!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Suspension of Disbelief

This was going to be one long, epic post. I've retracted that idea, though, so hopefully there will be a few little(r) posts coming over the next few days. Regardless, there have been some (to go along with the theme) epic things happening in life lately, so I thought I had better record them!

First new experience: the opportunity to recline in a chair in a dark ultrasound room and "meet" my baby for the first time. What a miracle disguised as a routine medical procedure! I was completely unprepared for how detailed the ultrasound would actually be.

And I found myself experiencing a strangely inverted need for the "suspension of disbelief." Usually a suspension of disbelief is necessary when something terribly fantastic and unrealistic is happening on the big screen. Because you want to continue to enjoy the movie, you say to yourself "oh, it's just a movie" and shelve the pragmatism until the credits roll.

This time it took all my effort to suspend great waves of disbelief that the little person they were showing us could really be wiggling around inside of me like that, right then, just as we were seeing. Definitely one of the most fantastic experiences of my life. It was also incredibly calming, though, and the near hour we spent with the ultrasound technician was a beautiful experience I think I will treasure.

We were bursting with news about the gender of our baby, but decided to keep it secret for just under two weeks. I wanted my missionary brother to hear the announcement with everyone else on Mother's Day. It was definitely a hard secret to keep, but the phone call made it worth it. Mom, Dad, Derek and Becky based the call in Utah, Ryan and Sarah called in from Washington D.C. (where they are interning for the summer), Jordan called in from Michigan, Tyler called in from Belgium (where he was away on tour with the BYU Wind Symphony) and Dave and I, of course, called in from here in Arizona. I sure love my supportive family and am so glad they are all engaged in such good causes!

So now that both sides of the family are fully informed, I suppose our news can go viral....

We will be adding a GIRL to our family sometime around the end of September!

Dave and I are very excited, though I think we were both a little surprised. David had been thinking all along that baby was more likely a boy and though I had been extremely unsure during my entire pregnancy and kept bouncing back and forth, I had started feeling more and more towards the ultrasound that we were probably having a boy. Not that we would have been any more excited that way, we had just suspected incorrectly. We went out and bought our first little dress the night of the ultrasound, just to celebrate.

No, we don't have any names picked out yet and probably won't for a while. We are very excited for the baby, but things are a bit busy right now :)

We were never able to get a good profile picture because as soon as she started getting prodded, baby turned right around on her side and showed her back to us for the rest of the ultrasound. The technician finally had to ask me to get up and walk around so that she could check the nasal passages before letting us go. This was the only desperate profile picture she could snap before baby started turning again.

Perfect little foot. Amazing!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wikipedia Fail

My Cambridge professor began our year last year with a very long lecture on plagiarism.  Part of the lecture included a stern talk about using Wikipedia as a source.

Who is he kidding?

I have gotten to the end of a nearly 100 page chapter on ritual and sacred space in a British book published in 1637.  It will be one of my main primary source documents but one question has thus eluded me: the whole thing is a snarky rebuttal against a pamphlet published by a man the author always calls "the Doctor." I probably need to use "the Doctor's" original argument to set up my arguments about my primary source, but I can't figure out who on earth "the Doctor" is supposed to be!  (Yes, my friends, I do believe that I have found my own evidence of the existence of a time-travelling humanoid alien, but I don't think my supervisor will buy it, somehow.)

So, this little bell goes off in my head and I think "maybe, just maybe." I open up a new google window and type in "Heylyn's Antidotum Lincolniense" (the book is mostly in English, I promise, but I guess the Latin titles looked more impressive back then...probably still do! Ha!).

Did you know there is no Wikipedia article on Heylyn or his ginormous rebuttal against this anti-ritual "Doctor"?  All I wanted was a nice brief history: Heylyn was so-and-so, born in this year and lived in this town.  Wrote a tract against Doctor so-and-so's pamphlet titled such-and-such published in blank year.

Was that too much to ask?

Don't worry Professor of mine. Apparently I have outgrown Wikipedia. It will be of absolutely no use to me this dissertation around.  Maybe next time.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


I survived college. I survived it well, too. I juggled a lot of things throughout the years: projects, papers, exams, painful homework assignments that took way too long to complete for far too little reward, every-night language study, hours of flute practice, a happy social life, service in the church, sleep...eventually I added courtship-engagement-marriage, grading huge stacks of papers, writing multiple lesson plans per night and teaching multiple classes each day to the whirl. I got it all done - perhaps not as proficiently as possible with fewer demands on my time, but done and done well. Somewhere during all of that college hubbub I decided that come what may, I could do it all. The process might be painful, but I could meet the requirements of my daily schedule, whatever they may be.

I remained determined that this was so as I headed off to Cambridge. Though I faced many different challenges (which tested me to my limits - I came back a wiser, more pensive person), I actually had far greater latitude with my time than I had experienced in a very long time. Thus, I came back from Cambridge with the same belief that whatever came my way would get finished, regardless of the challenges.

It is now March and I am panicking! I realize now that my attitudes were far too confident! Too late, though, to save me.

I'm trying three new things at once - three very new things. I've never written a dissertation before, and sometime a few weeks ago I realized that I have no idea what I'm doing. I feel utterly lost. Always a good feeling 3.5 months before the due date! STRESS!

I'm also working full time for the first time in my life. It's a great company; they need me and are putting my skills to work! Very rewarding in its own way, but very time-consuming also. Most of my energy is used up at work, which is really, really not a good thing when a dissertation is waiting at home. The job is definitely the most dispensable of the three current demands on my time, but I have made a commitment to them and I feel terrible when I even consider walking out on my co-workers and employers.

The third new thing?  Pregnancy.

And hopefully this is where you understand that my panic paragraph above is mostly jest. Life is good and I am grateful. But I also laugh cynically and shake my head at the girl who carelessly assumed that all things magically finish themselves somehow. Pregnancy, as wonderful as it is (supposed to be), has drained ALL of the energy out of me. I lie on the couch and stare at my closed computer lying on the floor across the room hoping wildly that this darn thesis will write itself. I have yet to see the magic paragraphs, so I'm begrudgingly beginning to accept that now I really WILL have to do it all. It's not going to be pretty.

Shame, too! My topic is SOOOOO COOOOL.  Can I emphasize that enough? And I have sacrificed so much already for this program. I would love to finish it with a bang! But my thoughts are currently elsewhere.....

Like on the heartbeat I heard for the first time last week. I was so terribly afraid that there would be no sound to hear. As if to confirm my fears, the doctor had a challenge locating the heartbeat and for many long minutes there was just the soft whir of nothing. She found it eventually, though, and for the first time in my life, I listened to a sound that was almost beyond my comprehension. A heartbeat, from my stomach! I finally felt a glimmer of awareness that there was a small life growing within me - a beautiful, healthy life!

Before then it hadn't felt real at all. The sickness and the discomfort felt very real, but despite all the hopes and prayers Dave and I have had throughout our marriage, I have recently felt mostly flat. I don't know how else to describe it...just flat. No emotion, no understanding of the life-changing implications. After an evening of tears one day, Dave helped me decide to spill the beans to our family members, like, right. then. I needed their excitement to boost my own feelings of excitement, and their happy tears, cheers and choruses of "For s/he's a jolly good fellow!" definitely helped. I love that we can share news like that and know that those who love us the most are rejoicing in the most pure and beautiful ways for the happiness that a new little life will bring to us and to them. Family is truly the most precious thing in the world, and that is why this trial is going to be worth it. For all the added stress that my dissertation will now bring to me as time pounds towards the deadline, I know that the reward will be worth it. I'm working on copying and pasting that concept from my head to my heart. Difficult right now. But getting there. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Strange Investment

It's funny how invested you can become in something that holds so little personal relevance.  I work for a company that sets appointments between insurance clients and their agents.  We do good work and rarely have serious complaints from our agents, but today, for whatever reason, I felt the complaints coming in from all sides.  Part of what I have been doing is calling agents who are currently on a January-end promotion to find out if they are interested in continuing.  I have been shocked by the small number of people who report that they have been unhappy and don't want to continue.  I'm even more surprised by the few agents who don't report at all, just tell us shortly that they want nothing more to do with us (or ... something).  We had another agent call today and yell at my co-worker for five minutes (he was kind enough to say at the end that he doesn't blame her personally and apologized that she was the poor soul who picked up the phone and had to listen to his rant).  We had another two agents this evening inform us that they wanted to cancel.  It's not that I'm offended, but I did have to stop myself from taking it personally.  The managers of this company are good people, as are the callers.  I am grateful to work for and with them, even though I am completely ambivalent about call centers and insurance.  Our little company works hard to provide excellent service for our agents, and I've seen the managers absolutely bend over backwards to accommodate the requests and concerns of their customers.  Maybe that's why I feel a little personal sting when an agent begins accusing us of neglect or poor service.  I was musing about how funny it is  that I should feel that way on the way home.

In happy news, I heard from my thesis supervisor today.  She is a phenomenal scholar.  I have been reading two very relevant books that she has written as I prepare to write.  I wrote to her last night with some ideas for a particular research focus.  I had been concerned about how to set myself apart from my supervisor, since she she has written so astutely about many of the things I am writing about.  After a lot of thought, I found a prevalent research question that she discusses briefly but not very satisfyingly.  It was that particular question that I wanted to ask her about yesterday, and I received her very happy response this morning.  Among the specific details of potential sources, etc. she said, "This actually sounds very intriguing to me, Amy. I don't know the answer ... I think you're really onto something--very good questions."  

YES!!!  Now just to write the darn thing just as brilliantly...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Balancing Act

I've juggled a lot of responsibility at once in the past.  There were semesters when I was juggling 17 credits of unrelated coursework plus three hours a day of flute practice.  There were semesters when I was taking intensive language classes in two different languages (Hebrew and Arabic) while planning 50 minute lessons each day.  I've felt like a busy, busy girl through much of my school career.

Last year I was still busy, but time spent in lectures and seminars was quite low (six hours a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays only), and most of my time was devoted solely to research and writing.  I went from days of concentrated time for schoolwork to a demanding full-time job and thesis-writing squeezed in too....somewhere.  I'm not managing it very well.  I had six weeks of transition time while I worked a less-demanding full-time job at the same company.  It was strange how it all worked out:

I came home from England and needed to work.  I had drained our resources and it was time to start paying off the little student debt that we had occurred.  After my hospital fiasco and delayed essay submission, I searched another six weeks for a job.  I finally received two interview offers and was the runner-up for each.  Thankfully, one of them offered me a lower-paying job instead.  I was to be a non-sales caller at a call center.  I accepted it because they promised to let me search for jobs at the same time I was working for them.  If I needed time off to interview, I could take it.  I couldn't turn down payment to continue the hunt, so I signed on. Their ploy worked, of course, and I never did interview for another position, though I did search for other jobs on occasion.

Fate twists itself in funny ways sometimes.  I ended up getting the job I originally interviewed for.  They fired the woman they hired over me because she just wasn't getting it.  She struggled with the computer programs and consistently made serious mistakes.  She told me the day before she was fired that she would lay awake at night stressing about the job and wondering if she should quit.  She said that she'd decided to stick it out and that three months should be a reasonable learning time, right?  Poor woman. They promoted me to her position a few days later, and they've since given me just about every responsibility possible.  It's a young, growing company, so I now fill a myriad of roles:

  • I am a customer service representative who responds to phone calls and is one of two to answer the hundreds of emails that come in each day.
  • I am a billing and service term supervisor who answers any questions our clients have about their billing and contracts.  
  • I am the operations team liaison for the call center.  I work with the callers and the call center supervisors to solve problems, settle crises, call clients to answer questions the callers can't answer, bring caller mistakes to the attention of their supervisors, work with the call center supervisors to improve the call process, etc.
  • I am the sales representative coordinator (or something like that; I never can remember the official title) who does research and gathers materials before each sales meeting.  This week there are three meetings in the first three days of the week...
  • I am the company editor.  I have been asked to edit new contractual documents, the marketing website, fliers and brochures, emails from the company's president, case documents for legal disputes, and the new company survey.
  • I am the official website designer and company copywrite. I am writing all of the content for the new company website and have had a large hand in the design concept (mostly Dave's expertise, actually). 
  • I assist in client retention initiatives when needed, which means that I call clients whose terms are ending shortly to find out if they are interested in continuing and I call clients who have paused the service to find out if they are ready to continue. 
  • I assist in introducing and walking our clients through our company web program when they start up for the first time.

So the cool thing is that the company trusts me and I have a very big chance to help the company expand and improve.  The president and operations manager value my judgment and respect my opinions.  It is nice to feel important and needed.

On the very big other hand, work is not and cannot be my top priority right now. That list above does not represent 40 hours of work each week. It represents a whole lot more than that. I find myself coming home late each day, and my mind is still reeling with to-do lists and ideas for streamlining and improving the operations of the company.  It should be reeling with brilliant strokes of thesis inspiration.

That's when I roll my eyes at the cruel irony.  My call position was fairly straightforward, tedious work. But it was exactly eight hours a day, each day, and I always knew that if I needed to take three months off just to write, I could do it.  With this new position, not so much.  I can't take off a bulk of time to write, and it expends so much more energy and emotion each day.  It even expends much of my creativity and innovation! I'm enjoying my job, but I have sacrificed TOO MUCH for that Cambridge degree to let my starter job compromise my success in any way.  It makes me sort of sick to think about.

Of course I could quit at any time, I know that.  If I have to make the choice, my degree will come first, without a doubt.  If necessary, I may be able to negotiate some kind of part-time schedule for a little while.  I was preparing a lesson for my 16 and 17-year-old girls the other day, though, on following the example of Jesus Christ.  I didn't have to think long to know what the Savior would do in my situation.  He would work diligently during the day to fulfill the commitment He had made to His employers.  He would produce quality work throughout the eight-hour day and finish the tasks assigned.  Then He would return home and work with focus and diligence on the thesis.  He would wake up at 5:00 am every morning (like I've been theoretically trying to do) and not sluff-off the alarm and shimmy deeper under the covers.  He would work well during the time available and He would finish the thesis and finish it well.  It's a really good thing I believe He can help me do all that too, or I might be a tad-bit panicked right now.  I'm just gonna take it one five o'clock morning at a time...    

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Purchase

On the weekend before Thanksgiving, Dave and I made the first big purchase of our married lives: a new set of couches.  Actually, that's not entirely accurate, because it's a beautiful, rounded, 2-piece sectional.  When put together it's only one piece of furniture.  I normally don't like sectionals, but this piece fit our needs and budget so well.  We'd decided not to buy a sofa and loveseat, both for space and financial reasons.  But we were worried that a sofa alone wouldn't meet our needs for long.  So the sectional was the perfect compromise, though it was one of those hit-you-in-the-head kinds of moments, right as we were about to settle for the sofa of the same line.  We were able to pay cash for our purchase, and we both feel very proud of the centerpiece of our living room.  (Sorry about the faded color.  My camera is still floating around London somewhere - though I'm sure the lost-and-found department has gotten rid of it by now - so these pictures were taken on Dave's iTouch, which doesn't actually let in much light.)

MY pride is the pillows on the couch.  I'd done some searching online and in nearby stores even before we purchased the couch.  I didn't like most of what I'd found, and I was appalled at how expensive pillows were!  So on a whim, I ended up at Jo-Ann Fabrics on Black Friday, and even though it took a few hours of waiting in line, I was able to leave with extremely discounted fabric I loved and pillow-forms for seven sofa pillows.  I'm not a sewer; I guess I'm just picky and independent enough to learn and do it myself!  I sewed them up at my mother's house over Christmas break and I love the way they complete the look of my living room!  (Again, the colors all look brown and gray, but the pillows are actually beautiful sages, yellows, and floral taupes.)

The best part of our new couches is that we finally have a place for friends to sit when they come over!  Hooray for sociability!  

Customer Loyalty

This was a post that I wrote back in November.  There were some reasons that I didn't post it initially, but the time is right now and I'll even post a follow-up post afterwards!:

Dave and I are in a good stage of life right now.  We are together (always a plus), we both have jobs (finally), we have a lovely little apartment, we both have the opportunity to serve and teach in our church, we are meeting new friends and reading good books together (a few at a time).  We both feel very blessed.  Now that I have been working for a couple of months, we are preparing to make the largest purchase of our marriage thus far: a new set of sofas.

Our previous sofas came from the living room of David's parents' house in Texas.  When they retired to Utah, they no longer needed the set and gave them to us, since we were newly married.  They were a good set of couches and we were very grateful to have them.

By the end of our time there, though, they were looking a little worn for wear and would have cost us a lot more than we had at the time to move them to Arizona with us.

So we've been couchless!  We have a very nice floor space in the front room and we have become frequent floor-sitters.  We've been surprisingly content with that state of affairs, but it really can't last.  David's service in the congregation requires us to invite families over to our home quite frequently, and right now there is simply no place for them to sit!  We had considered relying on Craigslist, our trusty used furniture finder (our kitchen table and chairs cost us $35, our perfectly good computer desk cost us $10 and our La-z-boy recliner, purchased in Utah and kindly toted down by Dave's mom, was $35).  We have been told, though, that because of Arizona's rampant bed bug problem, it is a very bad idea to buy used upholstered furniture here. We definitely don't want to take that risk.  So, after much saving, new sofas it is.

We have been to four different furniture shops.  Despite our savings, we have a small budget and have been trying to find the best quality for our money.  I hated everything I saw in the first two stores and we shopped there quite a while ago.  We had just been browsing, trying to get an idea of what was out there.  The salespeople were pesky and I was annoyed.

What I've found, though, is that as the time to make a serious decision gets closer, I become very loyal to my salespeople.  At the third place, where Dave and I went together over the weekend, a newly hired sales representative met us at the door and led us around the showroom with all the enthusiasm and eagerness of the unhardened greenie.  Her answers to our questions were plenty questionable themselves, but she was trying hard and I loved her all the more for it.  We liked what we saw and told her we would probably be back.  We made sure to get her work schedule so we could come again when she was working.

Last night, Dave and I traveled into Phoenix to go to a family-owned furniture store.  The place was huge and had plenty of character.  It looked like a sprawling southern plantation house:

We get their ads in the mail every week, and I have liked both the styles and the prices I have seen.  We were greeted at the door by an old man, who asked if he could help us.  We asked if we could browse for a while, which he smilingly allowed us to do.  I've always had a soft spot in my heart for old men, so I was instantly in love with this salesman too.  

It ended up being a very funny sales experience.  He did let us browse for a while, but eventually we noticed that he was trailing along behind us.  After a time, he crept to our sides and we found ourselves treated to long soliloquies about the company and its furniture.  He made no attempt to cater his soliloquies to our needs. This wasn't a man selling a first couch to a young married couple; this was a fine furniture connoisseur  who lovingly spoke about the intricacies of the most expensive brands as if we knew who or what he was talking about.  He continued to show us the most expensive furniture on the floor, and I'm convinced it wasn't even because he wanted the largest commission, but because he loved the fine furniture and just wanted someone to admire the craftsmanship with him.  This conviction was strengthened when he started showing us furniture beyond couches: kitchen hutches and bedroom sets that never could have fit in our small apartment.  David and I tried to steer him back on course several times, but I finally decided that if we could make his day a little better by listening to his very knowledgeable (if irrelevant) discourses, it was a small sacrifice to pay.  It did prove to be beneficial in a few key ways.  He started telling us about the importance of sofa fibers, which is something I knew nothing about.  This came at the detriment of his own commission.  The only couches I really liked at this store were the ones with wide whale-bone corduroy upholstery.  Dave hated them, but when I mentioned to our salesman that I was interested in the texture, he instantly began telling me how quickly they wear down and how little they hold up to heavy use.  He started explaining the difference between polyester-based fibers, cotton-based fibers and ... one other base I don't remember right now.  Dave and I learned a lot about the most durable fabrics, which was something we were able to take with us and were grateful for future reference.  But by the time we left the store at closing, we knew we wouldn't return to purchase.  My heart broke a little when our elderly salesman said, "If you do return to purchase, I would appreciate it if you would mention my name."  No hounding, just a sweet, sweet "I would appreciate...."  I hope his next clients were people with lots of money and sophisticated tastes!