The Bush

That was the view from our job site for two weeks, with varying levels of snow cover from light to heavy to even more god-damn snow.  Not much there, and an hour to a chocolate bar.  The first Friday we made a run for the airport (after getting dismissed by the customer at the very, very last minute) through a blizzard at speeds much too high for good sense.  We barely made it on the flight, but somehow we did.  The next Friday was much more leisurely, but still with a good snowstorm the day before.  As soon as we arrived I started wondering about the wildlife.  These sites are in the middle of muskeg forest, low stands of spruce, which look small but are probably very old and slow growing due to the poor and most likely acid soil conditions they grow in.  The first week I was fairly confident the bears were still hibernating, it was cold.  The operators reported seeing a pack of wolves and a cougar, along with lynx every so often.  The second week I had heard report of bears being seen in Banff area, and could see a hungry bear poking their nose out.  Again the operators report seeing black bears all the time.  As I said to my co-worker, I am not crazy, I have a real fear about a real danger – namely bears wolves and cougars.

I’m going to have a really hard time telling you about the work atmosphere among all the operators up on site, without giving away the guilty parties.  I felt all last week like I should be treated for PTSD, that I had just escaped a war zone, and that barely.  The operators tend to be forceful personalities, with foul mouths.  We counted 8 obscenities in one sentence from one operator.  Thankfully we did okay, we never had the full force of anger turned on us, but seeing it and feeling it displayed towards others was hard.  It has been over 5 years since I’ve done any commissioning, and I’ve gotten used to a gentler sort of people.  Plus my little group of 4 that worked and dined together, I could tell you stories, but again protecting the innocent.  Suffice to say “OH MY GOODNESS – YOU JUST SAID WHAT?”.  I actually had to warn them to stop hugging the warm tanks, you heard me, and if I catch you back there rubbing up against them I will do something, I don’t know what but something.  (They were joking of course, but the one guy did nickname the Polisher unit “Polly”.  It was 50% absolutely hilarious, 50% unbelievable.  And as my co-worker said “we know waaaaayyy too much about those guys now!”.

It was like working in western Texas – everyone seemed more like a character than a real person, stereotypes come to life and talking to me.  Even I have become a character.  The programmer turned to me at one point, after I had just schooled him on his own program, and said “you are a Water Goddess”.  He was very, very serious.  Obviously this has been picked up by my co-workers, and I now have a sign of a mermaid and a title “Water Goddess” on my cubicle.  Honestly, it is a bit cool to be called this, and there are many other bad things they could be calling me, and my co-worker as a penchant for giving nicknames (the only other one I’ve heard is Mamma Bear, after I tried to convince him to stop calling the programmer an unpleasant name).  Some of the other names – King, Boo-boo, Junior, Fluffy, etc.

Man, it still feels so unreal, like it really never happened as it was so unbelievable.  I’ve taken my name off the “available to travel” list for the near future.  I need time to recover, plus time to clean up my language again.


Holiday Treats

December 30, 2012

Christmas TreatsI certainly hope you are having a wonderful holiday, full of cups of tea, cookies, chocolate and many other treats.  If you don’t have one of these cups with attached treat saucers, well you are missing out.  Once I get my daughter asleep, I filler ‘er up, head down to my knitting pod and indulge in podcasts, swatching, knitting, and roll around in my yarn.  What can I say, it makes me happy.  Oh, the tea is Yorkshire Gold!

Christmas Past and Present

December 21, 2012

I am doing really well in the Christmas preparations this year!  Yeah Me!.  I only made two presents, and both are done, except I need to sew the buttons on Althea’s sweater.  She has already tried it on, and seemed to love the bright colours and it fit well, which means it is a win and I’m happy.  I’ve made some cookies, I’ve gotten some custom Christmas cards even though I haven’t sent any out yet, I’ve been stocking up the pantry/freezer, and I’m busy finishing up my and J’s stockings.  There is a lot of sewing to be done on the stockings, but I have four whole days to do it!  I’m pretty confident I can get these done, as they are the same as the stocking I made Althea last year, and I have already figured out how to do it, if I can remember.  My motto is as always aim low and celebrate big when you get things done, it makes for a much happier, lower stress me.

I keep thinking back to last year, and I don’t really know how I was surviving back then.  When I was doing it I didn’t realize how hard it was as I was in survival mode, but looking back, whew-ee!  I was getting out to work at 6:15 am, and coming home around 4 pm.  I would look after my daughter, get her dinner, bath, and get her to sleep between 8 and 9 pm.  I would then have 0-60 minutes to myself before I collapsed into bed.  During that time I was trying to make stockings, do Christmas preparation, clean, cook dinners, make Christmas cards, make a sweater for Althea, and oh yeah, relax.  Ha, ha, ha, ha.  Even looking back a year later I’m laughing hysterically, it was a very stressful time.  To make matters worse Christmas was on a Saturday, so I had no days off before hand to help, but was working full time every day.  I was supposed to produce a big Christmas Eve dinner, special meals on Christmas day, plus everything else, AND work.  We had just gotten our big order at work, plus all the other myriad of things I try and do, and all the extra Christmas things.  Hysterical I tell you.  Needless to say I had to cancel the Christmas eve dinner, didn’t send out Christmas cards, barely got Althea’s stocking ready, made a couple of cookies for Santa but no more, and was sobbing hysterically in the shower a few times from the stress of it all.

In short, this year is so much better.  Althea gets to sleep around 7 pm which leaves me 1-3 hours before I collapse into bed.  I usually work relaxing time into the nighttime routine which is so necessary for me.  People have been asking me my plans for the week off coming up and I answer; sleep and relaxing time with my family.  Nothing big or earth shattering.  I am looking forward to it immensely, especially the sleep part.

Every year on December 6th, as my little remembrance of the 14 female engineering students killed in Montreal I write a little article about women in engineering.  I always mean to do this more often, as I have a few other ideas for articles, but more on that later.

When reading periodicals covering Women In Engineering they always cover the topics of the low percentage representation, efforts to get more women into engineering as a career choice, and the speculation on the great mystery: why are women who have successfully become engineers, survived all that school, graduated, and have been working in the field leaving?  Larger and larger number of successful women engineers are leaving the profession for other life pursuits.

As a working Mum Engineer, I do now feel qualified to shed some light on this, as I completely understand ditching all that school, career, and salary for a smaller career, a lower stress job, one in which I have more time for my family.  Also more time for all the cooking, cleaning, child care, quality time, cat time, me time, husband time, I just have a lot of stuff to keep on top of!

Let me describe a moment that I feel crystalizes the thought process.  On November 11 I had to stay home with my daughter as day care was closed, but my job continued on, with a large million dollar bid due at noon.  I had found out the Friday before that the daycare was closed.  I had realized the night before that some equipment was probably double counted between my estimation and the electrical contractors, which would mean a substantial amount of money I could delete from my price, which would make us more competitive.  The bid was due at noon, I found out around 10 am that I was indeed right, I then had to update four spreadsheets, and get all those final prices into four more documents.  I then had to zip all those documents up into one file, e-mail then, and get someone in the office to print then out and drive then over to the client.  Let’s just call them the evil client as they have ruined my summer with this crap, the fall, and as I told my boss today I expect them to ruin Christmas with all these @#$#$#& clarifications and then give the job to someone else on January 1.  But I digress into ranting.  By the end of the spread sheet updating, the document updating, the zipping and e-mailing my daughter was screaming at my feet, lying on the floor, demanding attention.  I had to ignore her to get everything done within the deadline.  But as I did it, and listened to her scream, I thought to myself, “Self, this is crap, it is not worth it.  If I had to choose between work and my child right now I will choose my child.  I will always choose my child.  The money, the career is worth nothing to me beside what my child is worth”.

Women will choose their children and their family over their high stress, long hour, high demand job.  When we are being yelled at for not making deadlines, or just made to feel bad as women are extremely sensitive to the unsaid castigation, we ask ourselves if it is worth it, and it is not.  This is why women are leaving, and it is why I would leave.  I got that bid off, but I hated myself as I did it, listening to my baby scream.

But here is a flip-side, why are some women staying, and thriving?  What are some employers doing to help out, to not make a women decide between their family and their job?  Here is what has been done for me that is helping immensely.  First of all my boss is very understanding, and he tries really hard even though he is of a generation that had “work all the time, ignore you family, work all the hours” drilled into them.  I can tell that sometimes he gets upset, but I see him work very, very hard to not feel that way, and to understand, and I appreciate that a lot.  The long and the short of it is that I’m working for a wage that is lower than I could make somewhere else, and I have a lot of people asking me to leave, but I’m staying where I am.  The second thing is that I work hourly, so that if I need time I can take it, and I don’t have pressure to make up the rest of the hours in the week.  I just don’t get a full paycheck.  When I do work more hours we put them in a bank and they help on weeks where I don’t get as much time in.  I average 36-38 hours a week.  I get to leave at 3 pm, and pick up my daughter at 4 pm.  We eat at 5 pm, and she is asleep by 7 pm, it is a nice schedule and there is time for us to relax.  I appreciate being allowed to leave early.

My boss also lets me work from home once a week, which saves me driving time, and I get a ton of stuff done.  I get more work work done as no one is interrupting me and I do laundry, cooking, cleaning, completing small tasks here and there.  I’ve done chores while being on conference calls thanks to my ear piece which I love.  I am generally very relaxed at the end of these days as I get so much done.  Done, done, done, see that?  Getting things done makes me happy, and relaxes me.

In return for these priviledges I try not to push things too much, complete tasks on time, and put in extra hours at night when my daughter is asleep when really needed.  With my boss it is important not to abuse things, to I let him know that I appreciate what I get.  He hates that.  When my co-workers get a bit jealous I take them aside, explain why I need these priviledges, and ask them nicely not to ruin things for me.

In short, this is why I’m still in engineering (even though the past few weeks have been stressful, really looking forward to Xmas) and still enjoying it.  I really can’t imagine staying home full time with my daughter, as I need that time outside the home.  Besides, daycare gives my daughter so many things, plus they have potty trained her!  We had no clue how to do that on our own!!

Life is hectic, life is crazy, but I generally am enjoying it.  I wish I had more time to write down my thoughts, but well, see the above article.

We have a younger guy in our office, let’s call him Dude, that is most definitely Gen Y.  In fact he may be even younger than that.  He is Gen Z, the generation of uber self esteem, if Gen Y was the generation of self-esteem.  My generation, those Gen X out there, were still raised that self esteem gave you a swelled head.  When your parents noticed self esteem they whipped out a good insult or clever ridicule and nipped that in the bud!  Whew!  No ego maniacs around here.

But the Dude may be onto something.  He sits at his computer, working away, and constantly tells himself what a good job he is doing.  “Good Job Dude”.  The other day he congratulated himself on a great stapling job.  Staple.  “Good Job Dude”.  To all us Gen X’s and above, it sounds a bit silly.  But now we’re all doing it.  Meeting Done.  “Good Job”.  Paper work complete.  “Good Job”.  Completely random co-worker walking by.  “Good Job”.  Baby boomer turns to look at me suspiciously “Why are you telling me I’m doing a good job?”.  “Because we are learning to be like Gen Z Dude here”.  I replied.  He is still suspicious of the insult or clever ridicule that should be coming his way any minute, so that he won’t get a swelled head.

Gen Y is onto something.  Office moral is up, we are enjoying telling each other what great jobs we are doing.  We are having good meetings, we are good at stapling, clocking in and out, doing documentation, and getting those bids out in time.  Everyone is smiling.  Self esteem isn’t so bad after all!

Fridays R 4 Obsessions

March 16, 2012

This week’s obsession is Spring!  It seems to have come early to most of us this year with our warm temperatures, and lack of snow.  There is snow in the forecast for Sunday, but it could be just a little bit.  I’m currently busy fantasizing about all the camping we’re going to do this summer!  We already have the big family tent, we just need to get a mosquito proof cover to put over the picnic table so that we can enjoy time “outside” and not have to cover the toddler in repellant.  Fernie a few times for sure, maybe even just Bragg Creek. hopefully another park with some swimming areas.  We already had two nights in a tent last year that were slightly above freezing, so we know cold isn’t an issue, and Althea, like most babies, loves to sleep with us.  The more snuggles and kisses the better in her opinion.

Aside:  last night she said kiss for the first time, but still hasn’t mastered the kiss.  The open mouth with tongue planting on our faces yes, but not a real kiss.  Still, it is getting closer.  She has also mastered the free fall raspberry on my belly.  She lifts the shirt up, gets on her knees, and falls forward in a dead fall to my belly and plants a bit raspberry, over and over.  So much fun.

Camping for people like us on a limited budget is the perfect activity. Plus we hope to continue doing a lot of camping, so we might as well get Althea used to it now!  Any suggestions for where we have to go, and tips for successful camping with a toddler?

Friday’s R 4 Obsessions

February 24, 2012

I think I’ve been too busy this week to be obsessed with anything but making deadlines and responding to people that I said I would respond to.  Althea is going to sleep at 6 pm, so I’m firing up my laptop for another hour of work.  That still leaves me an hour to knit before I pass out wherever I am at the moment.  I prefer to already be in my own bed at the time.  AND in other big news I’ve been staying in my own bed until around 11:30 pm when the baby wakes up and I go in and sleep with her.  This is the way my mind works at 11:30 when I’ve just been woken up from a sound sleep;  I could nurse her back to sleep and stay wake, then get her back into her crib and go back to my own bed, which may take 1/2 hr to 45 minutes if I’m lucky.  Or I could lay down with her on the futon we have in her room, latch her on, and go right back to sleep.  We generally sleep until 4 or 5 am straight.  Sleep always wins.  This is progress however, as I’m getting those first few hours in my own bed, hereby known as the most comfortable bed in the world.  The futon, not so comfy, but I get to snuggle with a cute baby so that makes up for it. 

Alright what could I call my current obsession?  What can’t I stop thinking about?  Ceramic membranes folks.  Yes that is correct, not very interesting is it.  I can’t really link to anything in particular as it is all very proprietary at the moment.  I’ll just leave it at me doing a lot of research on ceramic membranes and people asking me things like “how much would that cost +/- a million dollars?”.  At at least I’ll be doing a lot of research this weekend. 

Oh, I’m also looking around for new glasses on the internets as a certain baby is very quick and always grabs mine off my face, and then is busy eating/twisting/pulling them.  Ta everyone!

December 6th- An anniversary of a tragedy, which I like to mark each year with some thoughts on women engineers.  Last year I talked about the benefits having women engineers could bring.  This year I had a multitude of ideas, but focused in on one: are things changing?  Is this old boys club really becoming a gender neutral, equal for all club?  The short answer is things are changing, but I wouldn’t call it gender neutral, equal for all just yet.

When I first left the doors of my university in 1997 and into my career in water treatment I quickly came face to face with decidedly non gender neutral language.  In all my jobs I write technical operating manuals, and normally one is given previous manuals to modify for a new job.  “He”, “Man Machine Interface”, “Man”, “workman”. etc. etc. etc.  Back then I changed the manuals for my company, without asking permission, without them really knowing, and used gender neutral language.  Why?  So that I would feel included that is why.  If I’m operating a water plant and must use the “Man Machine Interface” or “MMI”, do I need to ask a man to push the buttons for me, or can I push them my own damn self?  The industry now uses “HMI” or “Human Machine Interface”.  See, we can all operate water plants now!  Instead of man or workman, Operator works very well.  After all I’ve met a few excellent female water treatment plant operators in  my time.  I did this in my next company, and the next.  After that I was writing my own manuals from scratch, which I’ve done at the last 3 companies I’ve worked at, and they now have very gender neutral, inclusive documentation. 

Things have gotten better in the years since I graduated, but not perfect.  Not by a long stretch.  Around 4 years ago I found myself phoning a person asking if the e-mail SHE had written entitled “Gentleman” meant that I was not invited to their networking event, even though I was clearly on the list.  SHE was genuinely befuddled as to why I would have a problem with her language.  Just two weeks ago I got a quotation for a very large pre-fab building, one that is expensive and will make the company a healthy profit margin I’m sure.  It comes equipped with two Man-doors.  Does that mean I have to go in and out of the water treatment facility via the windows.  Only if they are people windows however.  I also recently answered a request for proposal (a company asks my company to quote on a water treatment plant, my job is to design it, cost it out, write out a process description and scope of supply, and fill out their documentation) in which I had to fill out their documentation.  Their documentation that stated very specifically that my company representative was male over, and over, and over.  I may have ranted a bit (a lot).  This implies to me that a company representative could not possibly be female (except I am) nor could fill out the documentation (except I was).  So what can I do?  I think the building manufacturer (who is our customer) will receive a bit of a chat.  I can’t do much about the other situations, as they are my customer, and gosh darn it they are right, now may I please have your money?  Can I get the man-doors changed to, let’s see “doors”?.  “Human doors?”.  “People doors?”.  The term must be gender neutral, but distinguish from the equipment doors.  Suggestions?

So why does the non-gender neutral language annoy me?  It is because it excludes me on a basis of my gender.  Even as I perform the same tasks, even when I’m the company representative, even when I can walk through a door.  It is a barrier that tells young women you do not belong, you are not welcome, you can’t play here.  When I left university in 1997 I didn’t believe this, and I still don’t, and that’s why I’m still changing things from the inside, even when companies don’t realize it is happening.  I’m opening doors, and I’m leaving them open behind me, just as women who have gone before me have done.  The old boys are retiring, and we play a different game.

Beans on Toast

April 25, 2011

When I was a kid my Dad had a few special dishes he would make the kids, one of which was beans on toast.  This seems to be an English thing, as I was surprised when I went to England back in the last nineties how many restaurants served beans on things.  The beans are those normally called “pork and beans” or beans in tomato sauce, I usually buy the vegetarian kind to avoid the pork bits.  On my trip I indulged in beans on jacket potatoes, beans on yorkshire pudding, which was particularly yummy.  There is a very specific way to make beans on toast for optimum taste:

1) heat up the beans in a small pot

2) toast two pieces of bread

3) Butter the bread

4) smother the toast with beans

5) cover with liberal amounts of salt and and pepper

It all goes together so well, the toast gets a bit hard, the butter melts and gives a lovely flavour.  The beans soften the toast, and of course the English love their salt and pepper.  The beans should go over the side of the toast, and fill the plate.

Doesn’t that all sound so simple, easy, and delicious?  All parts going together in a smooth melody, no part of which should be changed?  Here is where I explain that Mr. J is doing a lot of the cooking and food preparation these days, as I’m usually busy with the baby.  We’ve gotten good at me starting a receipe, and him having to finish it.  Unfortunately he has a problem with making something like beans on toast exactly as required, but instead needing to change things!  Change things, you can’t change something like that, not when I’ve been eating it since childhood!  The English aren’t really known for changing things either, after all they still wore their wool suits in India, and the women their full gowns.  You don’t “Make the World England” by changing receipes.  But he insisted on his batch of beans on toast; not adding butter, using hot sauce instead of salt and pepper, painstakingly making sure none of the beans fell off the bread instead of “smothering”.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t as good as the original, but he maintained it was better.  I think he was just being stubborn on that point, but to each their own!  Both of us being home with the baby is a lot of fun, even if we have huge pretend arguments over how to make beans on toast.

Our World

April 22, 2011

 Our world is still pretty snowy, with two major snowstorms in April so far.  However the snow is slowly melting, and flowers are starting to poke up!  This is the time of year when my friends in Utah are busy posting photos of their lovely flowers, and we are busy talking about how instead of four feet of snow in our yards, we’re down to 2!  I am excited that all the tulip, crocus, and daffodil bulbs I planted last fall are starting to come up, and we even have flowers in the back yard!  A cute fluffy hare was in the backyard this week, and I angrily glared at his cute fluffy tail, waiting for him to eat my flowers, but he has not (yet).  Good thing I don’t like rabbit, rabbit, ’cause if you eat my flowers, I may seriously consider threating you with the stew pot.  And when I say seriously consider, I mean it!  The hare is very brown now, not much white left, so they must know the snow days are numbered.  The temperature has been much mildly however, with days above freezing.  Althea and I have been getting out for daily walks, if we aren’t busy with other tasks.  She really loves the carrier now, lighting up with smiles when I get ready to put her into it.  She can even sit and look around quietly for a long time before falling asleep, which is a huge change from when she was just a month old – she had to be asleep or she would be screaming!  She can now also sit quietly in the car seat for awhile and look around before falling asleep.  She still screams at times, like when we stop at a red light, but it is  a huge difference from two months ago! 

As the weather warms up, and it’s getting easier to take Althea places, I hope we get out more to do more fun things in the city.  I’m enjoying thinking of all the places we will go for walks, new places we will explore.  And of course when it gets much, much nicer, and the foothills start to melt out, I hope we will be out there taking our walks in the woods. 

Althea got her first shots yesterday, and she was such a brave little girl.  She screamed pretty loudly for a minute, and then quietened right down.  Everyone is always very impressed by her lung power.  She is doing well so far, without any bad reactions other than crying whenever she wakes up, which just breaks your heart.  But it’s a lovely sunny day out there, if still a bit nippy, and once she wakes up from her nap, we’ll head out for our walk, and visit with some neighbours as many people have this day off.  Many cuddles are planned for the baby, which always makes her feel better, and us better as well.