Location Doesn’t Matter

I work at a virtual office.   What this means in a nutshell is that my employer doesn’t have a an office for me; I work at home.   It has never crossed my mind that working in this environment anyone would view  me less of a professional.   Yet this week at meeting of  folks, who I consider professionals in their fields, voiced over and over that employees who worked in virtual offices were less professional than those who were required to show up at an office daily.   It really got my dander up.

Working virtually is not for all positions, nor all employees.   In fact it takes an exceptional kind of person to go virtual.  Virtual employees must be extremely self-driven and disciplined.   They must understand their organization’s mission and how their job relates to that mission.  They must not be afraid of being held fully accountable for their time, and transparent in their activities.  No need for micromanagement.   Good virtual employees support a kind of invisible almost automatic supervision that happens between them and their managers without effort.

Many of these folks  who were critical of virtual employees work for government and university employers, with huge overhead and infrastructure. Virtual employees don’t eliminate all of  this, but they do eliminate the the need for a unmanageable piece of overhead, the cost of a building.   You pay for the building 365 days a year.   Every office has lights, heat, cooling, cleaning and more that all cost money…you get the idea.    Not all employees can work from home, but I would argue that many more employees could work from home than do, but it would mean that some supervisors and managers would need to let go of their iron grip of constant oversight.   In my case the elimination of the overhead associated with a building allows the non-profit I work for to direct more money to programs that people want.

My Home office

My Home Office

Elimination of a building does not eliminate an office.   I have an office filled with office furniture purchased at a surplus auction…a desk…file cabinets…phone…computer.   My circa 1950’s desk  has piles of work on it and post-its are on my computer to remind me of things yet to do.   It looks like so many other people’s work space, though I can tell you I am not likely to be wasting money upgrading my office because someone decides it looks dated.  My office look is not competing with another company, department or agency.  Functionality is all that counts in the home office.

The use of virtual employees also allows organizations to widen the pool of candidates when looking for a employee.  In places like California, Washington, NYC and DC there are millions of people to choose from, all within commuting distance.   In Montana we still don’t have a million people.   As a result many times  qualified employees are geographically unfit for a job.   Many employers settle when they try to fill skilled positions.   The use of virtual employees allows for better matches and more productivity for the company or organization.   I worked for Fortune 500 companies for 18 years and without the benefit of a virtual position, I  would be existing at a job, instead of having a career that makes a difference.

I think what I got my dander up about this attitude towards virtual employees as this week, is that  I was very sick.   If I had been a traditional employee, I would have been force to stay home.  Work would have piled up; 100% productivity loss.   Instead I was able to check my email two or three times daily, to prevent backups.    As I started to improve, I was able to spend an hour here and there working a little, and not contaminate my co-workers with my nasty virus.     A huge benefit to my organization, but not possible with traditional employees.

Though I work virtually 90% of the time, I am called to make appearances in person.  Sometimes I put on a business suit other times a pair of jeans will do.   I still have to pull out those skills I honed in business meetings the first 18 years of my career in the city, communication, organization, team player, professional demeanor, and consensus building.

Business is all about supporting the mission.  Business is business no matter the big city or rural. If employees all head to the same building or an office at home it is still business; traditional or virtual.   Contrary to apparent popular belief employees who work from home are not professionals, virtual employees are very special employees.  Virtual employees are  professionals who are driven, self-starters, highly skilled, and highly committed to their employer’s mission.  If you think that showing up at an office building makes you more special that those of us whose office behind a closed-door in their home, you are deluding yourself

Missed Season

We have a autumn in southwest Montana, but it is so short and different than those of the midwest that I always feel a little robbed each year.  I grew up on a street of sugar maples and so they were always full of colors each fall.  Then there is the smell or rotten leaves after they have all fallen.  Finally there is the smell of burning leaves.   I miss all of that tonight.

By Diana who is Playing Without Limits. Posted in Seasons Tagged

Train Travel

My husband recently traveled back to the Midwest, and he took the train.

The historic Empire Builder.  We have gotten a host of reactions about this.  Here is some of the logic and just plain comfort factors that went into the decision:

TIME: A trip from southwest Montana to Minneapolis is a 16 hours of driving time.  A train trip is 18 hours, grand total.  It takes about 3 hours to drive up to the hi-line where the train still runs but the amount of time  spent in transit is nearly cut by a day.  It was about 15 hours more than flight time, but when you add all the time you need to allow today to get through any airport security  it is more like 12 or 13 hours.  Airline savings  is only true if  one gets the one direct flight from Bozeman to Minneapolis.   Otherwise the flights take you through multiple cities and flights and it was only maybe a 5 or 6 hour savings.

COST:  It was a wash if we took J’s little car, which we never do on road trips as I want critical mass and all the airbags you can give me.  It cost about half the price of gas it would have taken to drive the SUV.   Also there was no hotel room on either end.   Another savings.   It was also about $400-$500 less than a three week ahead planned flight.  Best prices with the train were available with only a weeks notice.

COMFORT:  If for no other reason comfort is a reason to take the train, leg room, outlets even in coach in case you drag a computer or DVD player along,  and the ability to walk around.  The dining car is nothing like the elegant dining of old, but it will certainly do. It is more comfortable than any plane or car.  If you drive this trip you take a day to just unwind from two days in the car when you finally hit your destination.   If you can manage to sleep on the train, you arrive ready to rock ‘n roll.

VIEWS: Since there is only one train daily going across Montana I think the scheduling is done to ensure that the largest cities have the best departure and arrival  times.   This really sucks as the best views are traveled at night.  One should travel through the Rockies and Glacier National park during the day.  In spite of that visa dome is pretty spectacular even at night.

TICKET CHANGES:  In a nutshell you just need to make changes before your time to use it.  If so you get full exchange value.  With this time of year and weather it is a good thing.   Refunds do charge 10%  out of your ticket, but honestly a  restock fee of 10% is not at all unreasonable.

HASSLE-FREE:  Ok, that is stretching it, but the boarding a train is nowhere near as painful as air travel.  No 3 oz. rule.  No arrive hours ahead rules.   I am sure carry on and checked baggage must have some kind of rules, but they appear to not come into play like they do for everyone traveling by plane.  John left with his carryon decked out with a cell phone, kindle, mp3 player, a camera, a couple sodas, an insulated mug and more that would have never make it onto the plane.  He texted quite often, phone occasionally and no one was worrying that he might interfere with navigational equipment.

We are sold.  We’d do it again.  Go Amtrak.

Cold Weather Cooking

Now that we have had our first snow, there is no denying that fall is in its closing days.  The nights are getting longer and the days are getting cooler.   This is the time I focus on soups, one of my favorite cold weather foods.  There are old family favorites,  tried and true, and then the new ones that scream “give me a try.”

Already I have made Minnesota Wild Rice soup.  Though a soup, it is in the style of the universal Minnesota Lutheran hot dish.    What this means is it is white, a cream based soup, with the wild and crazy  spices of  salt, pepper and onions!  Serve it with applesauce or Jello salad and I am transferred back,  at least in my mind, to Minnesota.

I am ready to cook a pot of  Navy Bean soup  based on the version my mom used to make, jazzed up with a little more seasonings than she used.  When I was a kid my mom would soak beans overnight, and then cook them all day with a ham bone the next day.   At this elevation using dried beans is a challenge that requires not only soaking, but a pressure cooker or they will never fully cook.   Because of this I actually cheat and use canned beans.   I have learned in this case that there is a difference in generic beans and name brand.  Name brand beans are not mushy or damaged, and if you are going to cook them for awhile with your ham bone, you want to start with firm beans.   Since today we are looking for more fiber and more diverse proteins  bean soup is a great option.

Another soup on my to make list to make soon is chicken noodle soup.  Of course my chicken noodle soup is not  only made with veggies, and thick noodles, but also with my own stewing hens.   One of  drags of a stewing hen is that they are older and their muscle tissue fully developed.  Today’s chicken is butchered in about 6-8 weeks and soaked in a water solution before being sent to your grocer’s shelf.   There is no such thing as a stewing hen in today’s commercial food industry, and no real instructions for preparing such. What all this means is that the whole concept of stewing hen requires me to get out my vintage Joy of Cooking, and let that guide me.   The result is a soup that is more intense, and chicken that never turns mushy.

I am keeping  an eye out for recipes in magazines, websites and on TV.  I am sure that there will be a couple of new soups and stews that I will have to try.   Maybe one or two will be a keeper the rest will likely be one time wonders.

Egg Production Drops Again

Shirley on her 2nd day of moulting

I went out to the coop this afternoon to gather eggs  and it looked like a pillow had burst in the shed.  There were feathers all over the place,  looking like the fox had at a chicken dinner and left nothing but feathers.  There were dark feathers everywhere.  I could not find any blood and no sign of a carcass.

My coop is carved out from  a corner of my shed and on windy days my chickens are known to spend part of the day in the shed rather than go out and forage all day.   When they do this they are more susceptible to predators as they are not able to see anything before it arrives in open barn style door.  I feared that one or more of my chickens had finally met an unfortunate demise because of  my  desire to have them free range.

I called my chickens, and after just a few seconds I started seeing heads popping up in  neighbor’s pasture.  Now it is not unheard for the girls to go so far away, but this made me worry that Mr. Fox had sent the survivors heading for the hills.  And for those of you who don’t have chickens, yes they are easily trained to come when called; you just always need to give them a little treat and the greedy girls are soon more reliable than your dog on recall.

I watched as  the girls moved from the pasture to the road I started counting one, two, three, four……finally five and six.  I sighed with relief.  I watched them walk and then run down the hill looking for signs they were injured.  So far so good.  I wanted them all in the run so I could check them over close up.

“Chick! Chick!”  I called and then started to run  again, spreading their wings out as though they could run faster this way.   No one every explained aerodynamics to a chicken, and that a  sleek form with wings close created less resistance.  In just a few minutes my birds were all home, fighting over the scratch grains I had spread in their run.  That reward they came for.

None of them showed any sign of injury, but on close examination I could see that Shirley had little pin feathers in some spots.   She was moulting!  She still looked fully feathered, but I suspect in a day or two she will start to look shabby as more of her feathers fall out.  Then she will start to want to stay in the shed rather than go out and forage.  It seems my birds are almost embarrassed to be seen when they are moulting and tend to hang out in the corners of the coop or shed.

Fuzzy with new feathers coming in on her head and neck

Of course with a moult it means that Shirley’s energy is now going to be spent on growing feathers instead of laying egg.   Fuzzy is still moulting and still no eggs with her either.   When a bird moults in the fall it is dicey, at best, they will start laying againbefore spring.    They have to get all their feathers in first and then their body has to figure out how to start laying eggs again.  Long days, lots of sunshine helps that.

So this means the littles, this year’s birds are my sole source of eggs, and they are being challenged by the shorter days.   Now we will become a little more stingy with our eggs.

Broody Hen

My new barred rock chicken, “Little Rock” decided to go broody on me.  What this means is her biological clock said “hatch chicks.”  This has nothing to do if there is a rooster or not, and eggs are hatchable or not.  A broody chicken will start to make special sounds;  the true cluck-cluck that you read in children’s books.   She will also start sitting on the nest box 24-7.  This nesting process brings out two two things, neither of which are good.

First, a broody hen thinks that she has laid enough eggs to hatch and stops laying.  You have laying hens for eggs, so this isn’t a good turn of events.   A broody chicken will stop laying even if there are no eggs in her nest box.

Second undesirable feature is the desire to protect her nest box.   No other way to say it a broody chicken  becomes wicked and will peck you any way she can.   Her goal is  to keep you from reaching under her to check for eggs.

So I will spend the next week “throwing” her out of the nest box, until she gets the message.

Guilty Pleasures

Guilty pleasures are those things that we enjoy doing that we don’t want to admit.   Maybe they are not good for us.  Sometimes they are things that we are embarrassed to admit we do.  Most of us have a few of these, including me.

Pulp fiction, for me the monthly romance novel is a guilty pleasure I am somewhat embarrassed to admit.   Romance novels seem to carry a connotation of being less than other books.   The fact that these books are written in easy language in a predictable format, gets them less respect.  They are a favorite for me to relax and clear my mind when nothing else will do.   Yet these authors sell plenty of books, publish many titles and make a living at their craft.  Many of these authors also eventually write longer novels that eventually make the break into the NY Times best seller list.   How many of us are making a living at a craft we love?  Is it really a guilty pleasure.

Another guilty pleasure is tea with shortbread.   This is a combination of  financial extravagance (teas) and not being good for me (shortbread). I love tea, and have a vast collection of loose teas from different areas of the world; green tea, white tea, oolong, and blacks-Assam-Ceylon-Darjeeling. I love Chai, homemade not out of the carton.  I have developed a pallet that can often tell the difference in teas when my husband prepares a mystery cup for me.  I have a shelf in my kitchen cupboards just devoted to assorted loose leaf teas, strainers, pots, cozies, cups, and trays.  Though my stash of accessories is quite sufficient, I am always on the lookout for something that just screams to be added to my collection.   I love when my tea selection gets low and I can spend hours on my favorite tea shops online debating what I am going to buy next.   I love to make shortbread with real butter.   I am always on the look out for new recipes to try, that have that perfect combination of butter, melt in your mouth qualities and nuance of flavoring.

This is not all inclusive, but I have revealed to you two things I do,  I am not quick to admit, making them guilty pleasures.  What are yours?