May 5, 2020

Week 6

We are heading into the 2nd month working from home.  Not only has my office been closed, we are not allowed access to the building.  I have not been out of the office for 6 weeks since Case was born almost 24 years ago and even then, I'd stop by to visit. 

I have worked for the same company for 34 years - its the longest constant in my life.  I still see my coworkers on conference calls, where we are all lined up in grids like the Brady Bunch.  We have learned not to talk over each other while on a WebEx call; something we could never quite master on a simple conference call.  No more grooming jokes; our hair is growing and we have become quite accustomed to seeing each other without make-up.  The tell-tale ball cap represents an exceptionally bad hair day or perhaps rolling out of bed a little later than usual.

While no date is set for moving back into the office, I wouldn't expect to be back anytime before June.  It was an enormous task to deploy over a thousand employees from five large offices to their homes, not to mention an incredible cost.  Every effort was made to keep associates safe both healthwise and financially; and keep our promises to our customers.  It sounds corny, but its true.  We've written quite a success story and I've never been more proud of my company.

I don't keep plants in my office, so no worry about the dead or dying greenery.  It will be an odd feeling flipping the calendar on my office wall from March to June or July.  I gave up April to the fear of the unknown.  I'm not as willing to part with the rest of the spring.

I've always felt there were extremists on both sides of the political parties and that most people fell somewhere in between.  I get the feeling the same can be said about the Covid19.  Chicken Little will try and convince everyone the sky is falling and if you don't run, it will be your fault.  Doubting Thomas will cough in your face and brag about going to work while sick with a fever.  I've dabbled at both ends of the argument. 

I respect those who have health issues and are fearful the disease will continue to spread.  Unfortunately, they are right.  It will.  Their worry is as real to them as the person who hasn't had a paycheck for six weeks and unable to pay the rent or buy groceries or medications.  Imagine being the person who has not only health issues but now has no insurance because they have been laid off from their job.  There is no easy answer to do right by everyone.  How do you value a life vs the livelihood of hundreds of families who have no clue how they can afford the next can of baby formula or have a roof over their head at the end of the month?  Who wants to make that choice?

The flattening of the curve was intended to keep the virus from overwhelming our medical facilities and staff.  It's intent was not to wait for a cure.  It has proven somewhat successful in our state and I support our governor for moving forward, albeit slowly, with "opening" our state. 

While I have been quite vocal about wanting to camp and whining about not eating out, my selfish reasons are not why I support this movement.  It's for the health and economy of our state that we move ahead and not cower to Chicken Little.  If wearing PPE is necessary to continue to combat the spread of the disease, I have no issues wearing a mask or gloves when the situation warrants.  I won't hug you or even shake your hand.  I had hand sanitizer in my car before it was the cool thing to do.

It will be a long time before I feel comfortable about getting on a plane again or being among a large inside gathering with people I don't know.  Already, I recoil when people I don't know get into my personal space.  Is this the new normal we keep talking about? 

I will not, however, live in fear.  If YOU don't feel ready, then by all means, stay put. Live off your savings or gofundme or unemployment until the sky has fallen or won't fall at all.  But I can't live in that kind of hell. 

I pray that at the end of today and the end of the year, my family and friends are still by my side, even if just figuratively speaking.  If we are separated, it is by our beliefs and not because of our beliefs.  Think about it; there is a difference. 

Apr 28, 2020

Freedom, Dreams and other Pandemonium

Well, my idea to blog through the pandemic didn’t work out as planned.  I found when I am at my desk all day for work, to continue to sit here after “working hours” is not as entertaining. 

My office at Fallbrook officially “went dark” at about 6:30 PM on March 25.  The company I work for has been historically conservative.  In 34 years, I can count on one hand the number of times we closed for weather.  And we are in Nebraska!  But they stepped up big time.  While so many people are without a paycheck, I am very thankful to work for a company that is financially fit and committed to our associates and our customers.  Tomorrow will be five weeks since we left the office and settled into our new normal. 

I started a remodeling project at home in January.  A full remodel of the kitchen and a refresh of the rest of the main floor.  In readying for the remodel, I had sold my office furniture, dining room set, and moved living room furniture downstairs.  To accommodate my workstation, I found a table in the shed that McCain had brought home from a Two Men and a Truck customer.  I sanded it down and chalk painted it and set up my workspace in my unfinished office.  While I video conference with associates with pretty wall hangings behind their desks, I can only brag about fresh paint.

I have a tee-shirt that says, “I just want to be a stay-at-home dog mom.”  After week one, I decided that my dogs were needy little brats and I was ready to send them all to doggy day-care or the pound!  If they can hold their bladder during an 8-hour day during normal times, why do they think they need let out every 10 minutes now that I’m home?  It took me until week 2 to realize they were training me.  The poodles look a mess.  From playing in the mud to improvised haircuts; they are such a disappointment to their breed.  Maverick, McCain’s German Shepherd, and I have bonded.  I never saw that coming.  

I’ve lost weight!  I’m down about 10 pounds from the first of the year.  I try to get out over lunch and walk or do something constructive.  Then I fell off the horse and maybe cracked a rib a couple weeks ago and if that wasn't enough, I fell down a step on Sunday and fractured my foot.  So much for a 2-mile lunch.   

Now the news has us all concerned about the production of livestock and the packing plants not able to keep up due to sick employees.  In Nebraska, most of the sick come from the counties with packing plants.  Let that soak in for a bit.  Is the sickness so high because the company is ignoring the recommended precautions?  Or are the employees showing up sick because they fear losing a paycheck or their job?  If I were the governor of this beef and pork state, I would be worrying a little less about who is camping this weekend and have staff at the door of these packing plants to monitor the hygiene requirements and the health of those workers.  And if you think toilet paper was your biggest worry, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Try a shortage of hamburger.  Or bacon. 

When you look at the Covid19 numbers and see 59,000 people dead in our country, it is alarming.  And we should be afraid.  But when you start to break it down – not by the number of infected vs dead – but by the population of our country, it is several decimal points less than 1%.  I get that it is a horrible way to die.  I know there is no vaccine; that the antibodies are stronger than any flu.  I have read the stories.  I’m just saying statistically, I have a better chance of dying in a car accident than I do of dying from Covid.  Why?  While fatalities in Nebraska are slightly lower than Covid19 related deaths (53 vs 56), I drive a helluva lot more than I commune with people in the high-risk groups. All of that needs to be taken into consideration.  If you are hanging out in the parking lot of a packing plant, it is probably not a good use of your time or health.

While I can continue working from home, and quite successfully, I might add, I miss my life and the freedoms we took for granted.  I’m in a county that has single-digit contamination.  Neither John nor I are around other people in our day-to-day.  Case goes to work outside and occasionally fishes with a friend.  I have visited friends on two occasions, only one of which was inside their home.  I have met riding buddies at local trails and kept our horse length apart whenever possible.  While I have shared a vehicle with a couple other outlaw friends who accompanied me on a quick trip to Kansas, we took our own lunches and garbed up with masks and gloves when stopping for bathroom breaks.  You'd think we were Thelma and Louise!  Our only stops were a stable and a farm store.  It’s been almost two weeks since we returned; I think we are in the clear!  

Now you are probably saying I need to consider who my friends have been around, and their risk is my risk.  I was a child of the 70's and learned all about this in sex education class.  We are now middle-aged and trust me, I'm not worried.  

Really, I am pretty low risk.  I have little socialization.  There are no processing plants or a high Hispanic population in my county (only pointing out because of the relationship to packing plants).  I am not in the medical profession or run a daycare.  While you might have caught me at our local Bomgaars without a mask once or twice, for God’s sake, I stay out of Walmart! 

I have experienced the quara-dreams phenomenon, but it’s not from fear of catching the Covid19 but for the fear of losing my freedoms.  It’s seeing people, myself included, decide who is safe and unsafe to be around.  It’s from the awful feeling of being singled out or not included.  It’s from the stress of trying to decide to grocery shop online today for an order that won’t be picked up for another three days or saying the to hell with it, and just running into the grocery store and grabbing the cart and going for it!  If I follow my own math, I have a better chance of dying from a heart attack, about any strain of cancer, or from breaking a hip.   We all know my bones are brittle!  This, folks, is the shit that keeps me up at night.

We had some of the best spring weather and I’m yearning to go camping.  Our governor, bless his heart,  agreed to let us get a margarita to-go with our favorite Mexican food – curbside service even – but he won’t open the state parks for camping IN MY OWN CAMPER!  To be fair, he’s got a tough gig and probably doesn’t know that our little campers are self-contained and we most often do not use an outhouse or run around knocking on strangers’ doors.  He’s from the Ameritrade family.  I’m sure he has never seen the inside of a living quarter horse trailer!  

I would hate to have his job or the job of any of our officials.  The Facebook comments following a briefing would give me night terrors!  Who are these people and if they know so much, what is their solution?

So, I’m at home all day with 4 scruffy dogs and a house with no furniture.  I have a walking boot and crutches to support my latest injury.  I’ve entered 2 virtual horse shows which will be a calamity with said a broken foot and rib.  The outdoors is calling and I want to load up one scruffy dog, a very quiet horse, and a tube of homemade sanitizer and sneak across the state line with a quartet of like-minded friends where it is still legal to camp.  

I had no idea where I was going with this post or how I got here.  Those quara-dreams are going to be wild tonight!   

Mar 28, 2020

Change is in the Air - Part 2

Click to read  PART 1

March 11-12:  While I was struggling with the fallout of Expo, I also knew my employer was keenly aware of the COVID-19 situation.  A load test was arranged for the following week.  Everyone with remote access was to log on from home and test the waters, so to speak.  I remembered as a kid, my friends and I would go into the girl’s bathroom at school and flush all the toilets at once.  We were sure it would flood the building and we could go home.  The goal with all of us flooding our servers all at once was to not break anything.    

In my area, we are divided between three locations; two in Nebraska (different cities) and a location in Texas.  About 30% of our associates are teleworkers.  I've had remote access for years.  I used to travel a lot for work and living 30 miles from work, it's nice not to have to negotiate bad roads on bad weather days.    

As we waited for local schools to make a decision about closures, it was business as usual for the most part with one eye on the business continuity plan.  Having all of our offices in the midwest, I envisioned a tornado taking out one or two of our buildings or loss of power from a blizzard or what we know now as a bomb cyclone, the cause of last year’s flooding.  Will our plans work if we have to shut all of our buildings?  We are not dealing with a decision equal to canceling a horse show - this is big business with thousands of employees.  No COVID-19 cases had even been reported in Lincoln.  

March 13: Just like it did for Expo, things progressed quickly.  Schools announced they would be closing indefinitely.  The load testing was moved up to Friday the 13th and associates with remote access were told to work from home the following week.  This could help alleviate issues with child care and help reduce the population in our buildings, therefore reducing the risk of contamination.  

I left the office early as I hadn’t stopped at the grocery store all week.  I was starting to get a little concerned with the toilet paper situation and was sure my local store was not one of those where shelves were emptied.  It was like Black Friday and shopping for a blizzard all at once.  There were people all of the the place with carts stacked high with food.  Long lines formed at every cashier and it wasn’t even 3:00 PM!  There was not a roll of toilet paper to be found.  

I went home to do the load testing and planned to go back into town later that weekend, finish up grocery shopping and get the rest of the equipment from my office.  But a little voice told me it felt a bit like abandoning the ship.  I don’t have young children at home, I live in the country and we are pretty isolated and I have to say, even with the panic in the grocery store, I was still a bit in denial about this whole thing. 

I returned to the office on Monday.  This would be Day 1 of 8 - and what we are no calling the “longest year of the week”.  

My March 16 Post to Facebook:

I don’t know how many times today I have said or thought “the whole damn world’s gone mad.” Yet here I am in the throws of the craziness, not wanting to believe but scared not to! Just when the grass was getting green and the south breezes warmer, we are quasi-grounded by the leaders of our state and nation.
Admittedly, I jumped in feet first about a week ago, canceling our horse expo. Our vendors were spooked and our volunteer base dwindling. Expenses were still minimal. Coincidentally, an equine flu was going through some local barns. If truth be known, the horse disease closed the deal for me. Horse people risk their own health all the time, but don’t screw with our animals! Today our governor and the White House has asked we avoid events with groups bigger than ten. We would have been so screwed. For once, the force was with me.
At work, we have poured over our disaster recovery and business continuity plans. When these were being prepared, silly me thought the worst case scenario would be a tornado. Even as we crafted our plans, I was somewhat unbelieving. Sure, I’d go through the motions because its my job, but I somehow felt I was drinking the Kool-aid. I had toilet paper. I bought it at Menards when I was picking up paint. I was such a believer in the madness, I only bought one package of 10.
After work on Friday, I stopped at the grocery store down the block from work. I parked on the end by the liquor store because I was only picking up a few quick items and checkout is quicker. When I entered the grocery area proper, I was aghast. Who were all these people in my store? Carts beyond full with lines down the aisle. I scooped up my pizzas and a few frozen dinners; alcohol. I apologized to the liquor store cashier since I had went over the 8 item limit for that check-out. I didn’t know I needed to prepare for doomsday! I just thought we were going through the motions. Didn’t our President say it was a hoax? When did he become a believer? I always had a fear he might be the anti-Christ, now I don’t know what to think?
Last week ended with a new buzz word: Social Distancing. I could get on board with that. As a horse rider and camper, that is what we do. Distance ourselves from chaos and crowds and head to the country. To put it into practice at work, employees with remote access should work from home to avoid larger groups. I packed a few things from my desk on Friday in preparation for doing just that. But after the epiphany in the grocery store, working at home felt a bit like the captain sneaking off a doomed ship. So until I am told otherwise, I’d continue to go into the office.
The parking lot had fewer cars than a typical Monday. Signs were posted at the door advising the sick to not enter. Immediately it made me want to clear my throat. God forbid I cough! And just try not touching your face when they tell you not to! I closed the door to my office so I could get all that out of my system.
Like a well-oiled machine, my comrades and I worked to implement change coming down from our company leaders and our state. It is not a drill but the real deal, despite the absurdity of it all. While it's been said we will never know if what was done is overkill, not acting upon it when we should, would be tragic. I believe this 100%.
After work, I parked in the regular parking lot of the grocery store. The store was full. I didn’t have a list but shopped like I would on a normal day. A woman, a decade or so younger than me, said conspiratorially to me, “I feel like everyone thinks the world is ending.” I didn’t disagree but yet here we were with our carts. I bought my usual staples and a few extra frozen pizzas and ten pounds of hamburger. The shelves were stocked well, although they were out of Campbell’s Tomato Soup and the store brand bread. I was disappointed and a tad worried to see the toilet paper shelves empty. I spent $192, my biggest grocery bill since both boys lived at home.
I went out to the barn to feed the horses and wondered about spring. Last year it was the flooding. And then I broke my ribs. By the time I healed, it was July and hotter than hell. With last month’s faux spring, I was hopeful for an early ride season. I had entered a few competitions, made camping reservations and started to condition Windy. And here we are. I'm not getting any younger!
I hope when this comes up in my Facebook memories next year, I can reflect on it and know I made the best decisions with the information I was given and everything turned out well and good and the virus did not kill thousands, but quietly disappeared like the killer African bees that were suppose to be stateside decades ago. (I didn’t forget about them!) I’ll remember I was a rule follower. That I chose solidarity over isolation. That I can put personal feelings aside for the good of an organization or company. And I put trust in our leadership.
I’ll remember I should have bought 2 packages of toilet paper.
Stay safe, all. (t vasa)
To Be Continued.

Mar 27, 2020

A Time of Uncertainty - COVID 19 - Part 1

Do people blog much anymore?  By the looks of my last entry, it’s been almost three years since I visited my site; something I used to do a few times a week.  While I still love to write, Facebook and other social medial has reduced my creativity to brief thoughts or a just whimsical notion.  

If I look back at my old blog, it was perhaps a little self-absorbed.  Writing about what I love to do was easy.  Horses were and are a big part of my life.  There are still times when riding that I think about sharing this or that but then it ends up a quick photo and post to Facebook and the long version is forgotten.  

Today’s urge to write has nothing to do with horses unless I count what is going on in the world is taking me away from the horse adventures I’d planned this spring.  I was going to get Windy’s 1,000 competition miles.  Maybe enter The Colt in his first CTR.  I had campsites and entry fees paid.  I just needed to get through The Horse Trail Riding Expo, which I have chaired for six years, and I’d be ready to go!  That and the remodel of my house, which was running concurrently with Expo planning.  (Will someone remind me not to take on things like that during Expo time?)

Expo was pushed back a couple weeks this year due to Equifest in Kansas changing their date.  I was surprised at how the two-week delay reduced the stress of a tight timeframe and pleased with how things were moving along so well.   I should take a lesson in Murphy’s Law.  

In mid to late February, we start hearing more and more about this virus or flu which has crippled China.  I have become pretty numb to national news.  The days of trusting the likes of Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley are long gone.  Hell, even the weather forecasters tell you the sky is falling over a summer thunderstorm.  It’s about ratings and politics and when those things dry up, fear-mongering ends up being the story of the day. So now we have some “coronavirus” which is going to take out the world.  Looking at the numbers of people in China afflicted by this virus compared to the population of China, it was minuscule; shouldn’t even be a blip on anyone’s radar.  Italy?  It’s the size of California.  Of course it would be more concentrated!   

February 28:  My Expo co-chair called me and suggested we should have a Plan B around the coronavirus.  I thought he was being a bit paranoid.  “Let’s just keep an eye on it,” I said.  I probably rolled my eyes at the time, too.  I am sure I damned the media on Facebook for spreading the fear.  Then had a fun weekend in Kansas City; ate at a very full restaurant, stayed in a hotel, attended a horse conference and went shopping.  

March 9:  Met with the Co-Chairs about the status of Expo.  I was asked what we would lose is Expo was canceled.  While we had incurred some expenses, it wasn’t a lot.  Programs and tee shirts were ready to go to print.  We decided to call the printer and get a “drop dead” date for printing.  They gave us until Friday, March 13.  We would watch the news and meet with our Board of Directors on Thursday, March 12.  Print or don’t print.  Plan C was refunding the advertisers and just doing a schedule handout.  

March 10:  Happy Birthday to me.  My hopes of retiring in three years is now only just a dream.  I fell asleep with the TV on and woke up to dire predictions of the stock market going to hell because of China and this idiotic virus which couldn’t make me any sicker than I was at that moment or at the end of the day for the next several days.  

March 11:  Just 17 days ago.  Really?  I keep looking at the calendar because it doesn’t seem possible.  Again, another discussion with my Co-Chairs.  Things were heating up in Omaha.  We started to hear mention of “social distancing” and limiting activities to small groups.  Our event sponsor backed out.  Other vendors were calling and were concerned…

Meanwhile, another flu was rearing its head:  Equine Influenza.  While not a killer among horses, it is a social disease which can quickly go through a herd or barn.  Cough, snotty noses, fever and listlessness.  While just 17 days ago, a lot of my crowd hadn’t even paid homage to the coronavirus, the idea of horses catching equine influenza at our Expo was my bigger concern.  That, combined with seeing what was happening on Wall Street, the fight was out of me and I called Uncle.  Before we could meet with the board of directors, our team decided to pull the plug on Expo.  

The back lash to canceling this event was mixed.  Many said we were doing the socially responsible thing while others complained on Faceback that “a horse show was canceled over fear of this virus - really?”  I have to say, I woke up the next day with a lot of weight off of my shoulders.  A premonition of sorts, perhaps.  I say more like a God-send.  

To Be Continued:  PART 2