Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Face of Disability

The last seven years have taken their toll
I have now been on "extended" sick leave for a week.  My 1,040-hour sickness benefit, combined with my accrued/accruing vacation and holiday time, will take me into September 2017, or well past my 25-year service anniversary on July 6, 2017.  I turned in my "PCII" form, with a letter attached from a nurse practitioner at my primary-care physician's office, to SNL's Absence Management people earlier this week.  That should be enough to for me get approved to charge time to the "FMLA Full Pay" sickness account. Then, Absence Management should provide notice of my long-term disability (LTD) claim to UNUM, SNL's disability-insurance carrier, after which I should receive the forms for the LTD claim.  After that, I'll be alone in uncharted waters.  The LTD claim, however, is key to our having enough to live on in my retirement, so it's got to go through.  The good news for UNUM is (a) that I waited 7 years to file the claim, meaning it will only have to pay me benefits for roughly seven years (until I reach 65 years of age), and (b) that I will go ahead and retire and draw my pension, which offsets the amount UNUM has to pay me to make up the difference between my pension payments and 60% of my current income.  Needless to say, I hope those things weigh in my favor; the merits of the claim, on the other hand, favor me start to finish.

The worry is that Lockheed Martin Corporation lost the recent "re-compete" of the SNL maintenance and operation contract.  The new contractor, effective May 1, 2017, will be "NTESS," a conglomeration of Honeywell, Northrop Grumman, and a consortium of research universities.  No one I've ever known who has worked for Honeywell has had many positive things to say about that company. And, given that LMC received the highest rating possible from DOE/NNSA in the most recent performance review, it seems obvious that NTESS won the contract by promising substantial cost savings and efficiencies. The prospect of significant belt-tightening doesn't bode well for SNL employees, or for NTESS's efforts to recruit top-notch scientists and engineers.  I have to hope that NTESS will not come in with a wrecking ball and make wholesale changes to employee/retiree benefits right away.  Luckily, I don't think that will happen, as Honeywell's modus operandi in the past has been to wait a while before putting the hammer down.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

And, now, for something different...

Me with Granddad Stradling, 1981
I'm still a little dumbfounded by how seemingly quickly I lost interest in blogging.  I guess I can chalk it up to several factors: (1) I became "written out" on most of the topics that prompted me to start this blog in late 2007; (2) my constant mal de debarquement-related cognitive fatigue has made it much harder for me to think, much less to write; (3) various subjects, particularly domestic politics, have become so depressing to contemplate that I choose not to think much about them; and (4) I always felt like I needed to write about at least four or five topics to make a decent post.

The attached photo is from January 1981.  I had just returned from my church mission in Chile (which explains the tanned face and arms, as it had been summer in the southern hemisphere), and my parents were taking me up to BYU.  En route, we stopped off to see my maternal grandfather B.H. Stradling in Farmington, NM, and it turned out to be the last time I saw him before he died the following year.  Risibly, I was still wearing the "John Travolta" disco 'do that I'd managed to acquire from one of my missionary companions.

My struggles at work are ongoing, although I'm amazed that I've managed to scrape through a few more months since my "funnel" post (below).  I've investigated my retirement options.  I could start the process now of filing a long-term disability (LTD) claim, taking all my accrued sick leave and getting all the records and documentation ready for the insurer.  I've hesitated to take that leap, however, at least until I approach my 25-year service anniversary (in July 2017), because (a) I know the LTD claim represents a minefield (and the only real advocate I will have, barring my hiring a lawyer, will be my primary-care physician), and (b) there are significant financial advantages to reaching 25 years of service with the company, regardless of the outcome of my LTD claim (whenever I choose to submit it).  I can't shake the feeling that I'm totally "whiffing" in my current position, however, and thus I keep looking for a way out.  Even a "conventional" buying position in another Procurement department would probably reduce my distractions, and the insufferable level of minutiae that I now face, sufficiently for me to get through another year or two.

We were disappointed to learn that our daughter-in-law Cait decided to divorce our son Darren.  Cait apparently determined that she didn't believe in the LDS Church, and that, since her relationship with Darren was based almost entirely on church membership, she no longer had any reason to stay married to him.  Thankfully, Darren has managed to keep himself above the waves of despondency, quickly concluding that his future happiness depends on having a faithful Mormon wife (and that there are plenty of good prospects out there in that regard).  Darren and Cait have decided to part on amicable terms -- which makes Darren a much better man than I -- and thus he will be able to make a clean start when he comes back to Albuquerque to begin his doctorate studies this fall at UNM.  Kiley and Sam will almost certainly leave Albuquerque, and end up doing an ophthalmology residency in San Antonio, after Sam graduates from medical school next spring; however, it will be fun to have all our kids here for a while, anyway.

I still go to the gym, although I haven't been as good about it this year, partly due to my church calling.  Also, it seems to get harder all the time, although I doggedly stick to my "30 minutes at 5.5 mph" routine on the treadmill.  Dorine's church calling has likewise seemed to sap her interest in the gym, so she goes even less often than I do.  I thought I'd finally rounded out my complement of shorts and running shoes after I found a pair of nice teal-colored Nike knock-off shorts on Aliexpress; however, I recently ordered a pair of "frost blue" Adidas shorts, and a pair of gray-and-black Adidas running shoes, on a website called "6pm."  I hope that "frost blue" turns out to be the bluish-white color it looks like online -- and not a variation on Argentina/Carolina blue -- but I've been burned multiple times in the past when putatively subdued colors turned out to be much brighter than they appeared.

I'd like to do some hiking this summer in the Sandias; maybe Darren's being here will get me off the couch once or twice.

Monday, January 11, 2016

El embudito de una vida

For some time, I've sensed that the circumstances of my life have been forcing me -- funneling me, if you will -- to a choice between retirement and suicide.  When I first became ill six years ago with mal de debarquement syndrome (MdDS),  I couldn't have imagined continuing to work for that long in the state I was in; however, things have in fact become steadily worse in the interim. Consequently, I'm convinced that there is no job I can do well enough now at Sandia National Labs that is worth the salary I draw; and, frankly, I'm tired of making the pretense that the opposite is the case.  Whereas my native intelligence is more or less intact, my MdDS has essentially destroyed my ability to juggle complex tasks, and no job change is going to hide that fact.  I don't really want to leave a legacy of suicide for my children and grandchildren, so retirement is the only viable option left open to me.  The question is whether it will leave me with enough to live on. I'm not sure I can get by without taking a menial job, perhaps in retail, to supplement my pension payments; however, perhaps I can assert multiple disability-based claims against pension, long-term disability insurance, and/or social security.  Make no mistake -- I am disabled -- but the overwhelming effects of persistent MdDS, while documented in my case, are not outwardly apparent, which is the biggest obstacle I face in trying to supplement my retirement income.  The profound depression that I've felt recently, however, has drawn me further into the funnel, and I must take action soon.

[Update 7/20/16: It wasn't long after I posted this article that I found out that Sandia National Labs no longer offers a pension "kicker" for people who have to retire early due to disabilities.  Rather, long-term disability insurance is all Sandia offers in that regard; effectively, Sandia has washed its hands of having to make any kind of determination of disability, which unfortunately is typical of Sandia corporate behavior these days.]

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Trip to L.A., October 7-12, 2015

Darren and Dorine at L.A. Temple
Manhattan Beach

Dorine at Griffith Park
Retrieving Murray in Redondo Beach
Van Gogh

Dorine at La Brea Tar Pits

Dorine with Bougainvillia at Getty Center
Panoramic View of Getty Center
L.A. Temple
Getty Center Art Museum
Me with Galen in El Segundo

Dorine and I flew out to Los Angeles on Wednesday, October 7, 2015, to see our son Darren.  We shopped for flights well in advance of the trip, and thus we got dirt-cheap fares on Southwest Airlines ($78 round-trip for each of us). With the money we saved, we rented a car from Thrifty at LAX; apart from the terrible shuttle service to and from Thrifty's off-airport lot, we were happy with the rental.  We weren't counting on seeing Darren on the morning of the 7th; however, Darren's wife Cait's Yorkie, Murray, had wandered off the night before, and Darren had gone out posting "lost dog" posters in their neighborhood in Lawndale before going to work.  Cait was in Minnesota, so Darren was driving to work in her absence; thus we were able to talk to him before he left.  We'd made arrangements to meet up for lunch with my old college buddy, Galen Kekauoha, in El Segundo.  Given that Darren works in El Segundo, he was able to join us at the Chinese restaurant we'd chosen. 

That afternoon, Dorine and I drove north on the 405 freeway to the Getty Center, which is an extremely interesting place. We saw a huge "temporary" exhibit of Hellenic bronze sculpture, the Getty art collection (featuring a great collection of impressionists -- see the photos above of van Gogh's "Irises" and the Monet painting of the Rouen Cathedral), and the gardens on the grounds.  That evening, Darren got a call from a lady who had picked up Murray -- thank goodness -- and wanted to arrange to give him back; we met up with her at a dog park in Redondo Beach.  Later we walked to an In 'N' Out Burger near Darren and Cait's place for dinner.

The following day, the big activity for the day was to go shopping at the Citadel outlet malls in L.A.  I had noticed there was an Adidas outlet store there and was excited to see what it might have in stock.  Na├»vely, I believed it would have a good selection, reasonably priced, of shoes and apparel, whereas it had fairly limited inventory and most of the stock was selling for full retail prices.  We bought shoes for some of the grandkids (both there and at the Nike store next door), and I still managed to buy a pair of mauve-and-gray Adidas shorts (paying about $10 more for them than they were worth to me, driving the final nail into the coffin of any desire I had to shop at an Adidas outlet store).  That evening, we walked with Darren to a Carl's Jr. in the area to eat. 

On Friday, Dorine and I drove up to Griffith Park and walked around for a short while.  In the afternoon we drove down to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and saw most of the exhibits there.  On Saturday, Darren went with Dorine and me to the Los Angeles LDS temple, where we did an endowment session.  I hadn't been to the LA temple since Galen's sealing to his wife Jackie in 1990(?), and this was the first time I'd ever gone through a session there.  On Sunday, Dorine and I ended up not going to church; later, Darren and we went down to Manhattan Beach and walked around for a while before we drove north to Van Nuys and had dinner with Galen and Jackie (and their son Bryan, and the missionaries) at their home.  Later that night, Cait flew back from Minnesota, so we did get to see her briefly.

On Monday, we went to go see the La Brea Tar Pits, which I hadn't realized (a) was pretty much in the middle of LA, and (b) produces fossils dating back only to the last Ice Age (i.e., no dinosaurs).  Dorine and I had both been steeped in LBTP lore in school as children, however, so it was interesting finally to see the place.  We flew back to Albuquerque that night after returning our rental car and enduring what seemed like interminable waits (a) for the Thrifty shuttle to take us back to LAX, and (b) for the plane to load and take off.  I was really glad not to have had to drive to LA on this trip!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bill Shunn's The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary

I have now read Bill Shunn's memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary.  It is a brilliant piece of writing, made even more so by the lengths to which Bill went, utilizing the services of a world-class editor, to produce the definitive version of the book.  I have always liked Bill's writing, as it takes him little effort to serve up some tasty literary "cheeseburgers"; however, the published version of The Accidental Terrorist is truly a slice of filet mignon to be savored with gusto.  I miss some of the humor that was edited out of earlier incarnations of the story -- especially the inside jokes or references that only active Mormons could "get" fully -- but I appreciate Bill's motivation in giving it a serious treatment for its formal unveiling.  (I also appreciate his mentioning me in his author's acknowledgments.)

Although I remain an active member of the LDS church, I share much of Bill's perspective on the notion of serving two years as a Mormon missionary, particularly the often-bleak outlook of a new missionary just starting out and the sheer impossibility of a missionary's spending all of his designated proselytizing time "fruitfully" or even fully engaged.  I well remember my early days as a missionary in Chile in 1979.  My adjustment to mission life in a foreign country was especially hard-fought (and only barely won), although I had an "advantage" that Bill didn't have in Canada, in that I could not have left my mission on the sly -- all roads home passed through my mission president and the full weight of Chilean and American immigration and customs officials.  Thus, when I arrived in Chile I was committed to stay for the duration.  Also, unlike Bill, I didn't feel particularly anguished about giving up two years of my life (though admittedly it was a great sacrifice in retrospect); I had neither great plans nor a girlfriend to put on hold.  Still, I distinctly remember wondering if I'd ever really come home or if I'd be doomed to knock on people's doors for eternity.

However, when it came to active missionary work, I possibly had it even tougher in Chile than did Bill in Alberta (or, later, in Washington and Idaho).  In my mission, we typically tried to be judicious in baptizing teenage girls or single women, so when we went out and tried to find people to teach about the church, we looked for entire families with fathers who might one day provide church leadership.  Unfortunately, most Chilean men's work schedules took them away from home until about 7:00 pm on weekdays, so that meant we had about a three-hour window of potentially "productive" time every evening for "tracting" and teaching.  Given that we were expected to proselytize for up to ten hours per day, that left a lot of time to fill.  We tried lots of things, but "street contacting" was particularly pointless in Chile; almost invariably, the contact would, in order not to be rude in the moment but also not to be bothered further, give a false address.  (I hated stopping people on the street in any case.)  Thus we ended up spending a lot of time in members' homes doing nothing in particular.  Thankfully, I didn't break the most-serious of mission rules -- nor did I break less-serious rules in so persistent a manner that it became serious in my leaders' eyes -- but, for me, as for most of the missionaries presented in The Accidental Terrorist, proselytizing hours ended up being largely an exercise in creative time-wasting.  That caused me to feel a sense of shame that, though it diminished over time, continues to overshadow my memories of the huge, mostly diligent effort that I did expend in trying to "further the kingdom" in Chile.  

Of course, Bill, being an "ex-Mo," presents his missionary memoir from a distinctly critical point of view concerning (a) the various doctrinal, historical, and cosmological claims the church makes, (b) the life of Joseph Smith, the church's founder, and (c) the "guilt" culture that impels so many of its young people -- especially, still, its young men -- to take a huge bite out of their lives to serve church missions.  I don't share most of that part of Bill's perspective, but I will say this: so much of a Mormon young man's training is directed at preparing him to serve a proselytizing mission that it shouldn't amaze anyone that many missionaries come home wondering, anticlimactically, "What now?"  Having been a missionary, no matter the level of one's diligence, doesn't automatically make one a great breadwinner, head of family, husband, father, or administrator; thus I feel it does young Mormon men a great disservice not to allow them to gaze farther into the future and to view their missions, rightfully, as one step on a larger path.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The End of the Road?

"The river of time keeps on pulling us..."
I've become increasingly disinterested in updating this blog and may just call it quits. I have not written about trips I/we have taken, thoughts I've had on the upcoming 2016 presidential election, ongoing events in our family, my personal feelings and struggles, my mother's age and physical state, and any number of other topics that once would have seemed worth commenting on. The biggest problem is that I've tended to "accumulate" topics for one long blog post, instead of picking one and writing about it only. However, I'm also "written out" on a variety of subjects, and still others cause me to feel depressed -- and I'm already in too deep a psychological pit to want to keep "digging." (The odd thing is that I write in my journal more than ever these days, so I know it isn't just a question of making myself write.)

I guess I could write in "stream of consciousness" mode, as I often do in my journal, hopping around from topic to topic without any concern for paragraph structure. don't need a second journal.  So let me say a few things, post some photos, and I'll call it good.

First, I'm thoroughly amazed that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are even in the conversation about next year's presidential election. Clinton is about as scandal-ridden a candidate that there's ever been; the mere fact that she conducted her official business as Barack Obama's secretary of state on a personal server -- including the exchange of classified e-mails -- might have won her prosecution for espionage were she a lesser political luminary (or a Republican). Democrats may ultimately reject her again, as they did in 2008, but it all goes to show that an Ebola virus might run successfully for office if it had a (D) after its name. As for Trump, he has as detestable a personality, and has the least class, of any rich person I've ever seen. However, he's struck a populist nerve with his politically incorrect opinions on illegal immigration, and I think Rush Limbaugh was dead-on in saying that Trump's appeal lies mainly in his not being a card-carrying member of America's corrupt, poll-driven political class. I would vote for practically any other Republican, although I haven't yet decided which of the 'Pub candidates appeals to me most.

Since March, I have traveled to Las Vegas (again) for business. Dorine and I went to Utah for spring break, partly to take Nicole her new car (her great-grandmother Gloria Finnemore's old Mustang). And Dorine and I have gone to the cabin twice, once in April and the other time in July. (Actually, we went a third time a few weeks ago to help install new kitchen cabinets and plumbing, as well as to do some general clean-up of the property, with three of the other shareholders -- Bob Lenberg, Danny King, and Lynn Thurgood.) Here's a series of photographs from some of these travels.

City Creek Mall, SLC (March)
University Mall, Orem, UT (March)

SLC Temple from roof of Conference Center
Ryker and Kayla, City Creek Mall
Plaza Inn, downtown SLC
Devery and her kids at cabin (April)
Church Office Building, SLC
Rainbow Trail, West Forks (July)

Noelle in the loft of the cabin (April)
Mason in the loft of the cabin (April)

Mason and Tyler at cabin (April)
Heidi at cabin (April)

Kids at cabin (April)
Old headboard from cabin, going to charity

Newly remodeled kitchen at cabin
Maddi, Hailee, Ryker (July)

Chris at cabin (July)
Zach at cabin (July)

Alexis and Ryker (July)
Alexis, Hailee, Maddi (July)

Dorine with Hailee and Maddi (July)
Pinegrove cabin

Me with Hailee and Maddi (July)
Campfire at Pinegrove (July)

Dorine with Maddi (July)
At overlook (July)

Garrett, Zach, and Dorine on Rainbow Trail
Nicole at cabin (July)

Nicole with the little kids (July)
Me at cabin (July)
Inside of Luxor Hotel, Las Vegas (March)

Kids getting muddy at cabin (July)

Devery and Heidi and Kids (April)
At Treasure Falls (April)
At Treasure Falls (April)
In Pagosa Springs (April)
Me with Noelle (April)
Card game at cabin (July)
Dorine with Maddi and Hailee (July)
Kristy and Chris and kids (July)