Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Only Constant is Change

Man, it's been a week of changes.

Sometime last week I woke up, late, late at night, with the most profound feeling that it was time to get Christine into a new car. Not just a hunch: a real sense of urgency. I felt, with absolute certainty that I needed to take care of this, and soon, and if I didn't I would seriously regret it. Why? I dunno. Maybe the thing was gonna break down and cost me a bundle soon, but honestly I felt it was something ... worse. More dire. So I laid there forabout an hour, thinking about how to make it work, juggling numbers and budgets in my head, and concluded that yeah, we can do this.

And since I tend to follow my heart when it talks this loud, that meant we would do it as soon as was humanly possible. So Monday (President's Day -- I actually had the day off, and the kids did not) we went and got her crappy Chevy Venture minivan appraised, found out we actually had a small amount of equity in the damn thing, test drove several cars and finally wound up going for a 2006 Mazda5. Comfortably big without being enormous or monstrous, with plenty of room for her and the kids, low miles (less than 9500), lots of upgrades (moonroof, leather interior, really nice stereo, privacy glass all around), and way more fun to drive than the damn minivan. She's thrilled, and I feel like somehow I have avoided a disaster of some sort. So, definitely change for the better, there.

But then, there's the other changes afoot. The workplace is ... well, let's says it's been tossed into something of a chaotic state. Last week, the acquisition of our largish company by a somewhat larger multinational company was completed, and thus far we have little or no insight into their plans for us. We've been assured that we re important strategically and blah blah blah, but there's no real visibility into just what that means just yet. So, things have been a tad bit tense for lots of folks.

Then, yesterday, the bomb dropped: Our entire engineering management and architecture team (6 people in all, including my brother) resigned. Heading off to a new startup. Now, obviously, I knew a lot of this was coming, and accurately intuited the rest, so none of this was a big shock to me. However, lots of other folks were caught completely unaware and are very shaken up by this.

Then, to make matters worse, the upper level management are totally dropping the ball on managing the scenario -- not disseminating information well, letting rumor and cubicle conjecture do most of the communicating rather than directly addressing anyone about this. People are literally panicking, getting ready to clean out their desks, convinced that we will all be locked out of our offices come Monday morning.

I've spent a lot of time and energy trying to calm folks down, get as much accurate information out to my co-workers as I can, etc. And since I am related to one of the guys who is leaving and have been here longer than just about anyone who is left I get the sense that my attitude is carrying a bit more weight than some others. Maybe not. Hard to say. I just hate to see people scared, especially when I think they are being scared without reason. These morons at the top are taking a bad situation and making it infinitely worse by not talking to enough people about it. It's unreal. My team and I kind of layed into our manager (who is based up in RI) in hopes that some of the concerns about how ham-fisted the Big Wigs are being about this will get communicated and addressed sooner. We shall see.

It's been an interesting experience so far, though. There was a time when this would have sent me into something of a panicked frenzy, when the prospect of so much change and uncertainty would have coalesced into loads of negative energy, anger, and frustration.

Instead, I find I'm ... well, sort of amused by it.

Not by people's worries and fears -- I'm doing everything I can to help settle people down and to dispel the more paranoid and self-destructive rumors as they come along. And reminding folks all over the place that the main thing management needs to do right now is get people to commit to sticking around, and the best way to do that is with money, so this could actually result in something of a windfall for most of us. I hate to see people eating themselves up with worry over stuff like this, especially when so much of it could have been avoided by some intelligent and reasoned communication from the Corporate Powers That Be.

But most of all, I'm reminding folks just how good they are, and advising them that considering how soon this is happening after an acquisition, our entire management chain is very, very motivated to get this resolved quickly, if only to ensure that they still have jobs at the end of the month. Management desperation can certainly translate into career opportunity in situations like these.

However, I do find it amusing just how utterly clueless these corporate guys have proven themselves to be, how utterly amateurish. This whole situation could have been fixed months ago if they'd just adjusted their management approaches, but they refused. Now they're getting snapped in the ass as a result. The schaudenfreud is delicious. And I find I'm spending a lot of time planning my next move, and looking forward to the upcoming conversations with these jokers. Ever since I got wind of what was coming, I've just sort of wondered what they were going to do about it. I'm not worried about myself at all -- I know I'm good, and I know that if the worst case scenario were to occur I'd land on my feet, probably with a couple of months severance in my bank account as a result. But I was curious to see whether our execs would handle this with something resembling a clever strategy or if they would instead fumble their way through, making a series or typically disastrous errors as they tried to figure out how to get a handle on this. Clearly, they have opted for the latter outcome, and their ability to exceed even my lofty expectations of their ineptitude continues to astonish and amaze.

One nice thing to come out of this, though, was my own observation that training in Tang Soo Do has truly altered the way I have approached this series of changes, an observation that was confirmed (without prompting) by a friend yesterday. She said, while we were discussing this whole mess and how to proceed, that she really felt that my training in martial arts had made some clear observable changes in how I approach things these days. How, while I'd always been fiery and passionate about my work (well, about everything, really), my passions were now tempered, far more focused and controlled. Tools to be used to create solutions.

It was a kind and generous observation, and one I really do agree with. Just one more example of how Tang Soo Do has changed my life to throw on the pile. I keep encountering instances of these changes, theses effects, both large and small, that Tang Soo Do is having on my life, my outlook, my self-image, me. In essence, I'm getting the feeling that the pile is getting so high that the individual examples are becoming inconsequential. Just one more event that reiterates something that is becoming simple and apparent.

I'm not feeling individual changes anymore so much as ... changed.

Mood: Kind of torqued up, but good
Now Playing: Patty Griffin, "Children Running Through"

Friday, February 09, 2007

Angel Fire: Summary

So, all in all I'd give the Angel Fire vacation a B-. We had a blast, but there was plenty of room for improvement in some areas, while other areas were just fine. Some things would have been better had we been better informed about the resort (either via research or via the staff) beforehand. Here's a summary of various aspects of the long weekend:

Angel Fire Resort:

Room: B. For the price, a great value. Less than $100 a night, and we had a large clean well maintained room with an electric fireplace, large-ish fridge, and balcony with a nice mountain view. It would have been nice to have a real coffee maker (they had one that used disposable filter packs, and the coffee quality was awful) and a microwave to warm things up. One big downside: Rooms were VERY hot and VERY dry -- we had sore throats, nose bleeds, and chapped lips and skin the entire time we were there. Next time I'd definitely bring a portable humidifier to avoid feeling like I was breathing out of a hairdryer. But all in all a solid value.

Staff: C (with a solid A for one manager and one coffee shop proprietor). Overall the staff were adequate, and friendly. Very average. Nothing outstanding, really, but the desk staff were helpful and pleasant. Most of the folks working in the various rental and storage areas were typical "ski bums" -- cool dudes in no particular hurry. Not a problem at all, just keep this in mind if you're in a hurry. Our ski instructor was not great, but I think this was partly due to the large number of students he got stuck with. Still, it's not like we got cash back for having a sub-par class, so they lose some points, there. One exception to the overall "meh" quality of the staff was the manager who was on duty our last day there. Wish I'd gotten his name -- older guy (late-40's/early 50's I'd say), mustache and a generous head of dark brown/black hair with some silver. He was fantastic, and tremendously helpful in coming up with some suggestions for some alternative activities for our last day at the resort. One other exceptional staff member was the guy running The Buzz coffee shop -- usually manages the restaurant at the top of the mountain, but he'd fallen and torn his Achilles, so now he was on crutches awaiting surgery and staying behind a coffee counter. He was a gem as well -- chatty, friendly, and fun.

Pool/Hot Tub: D+. Tiny pool, tiny spa. Noisy, crowded, with dangerously slippery stairs by the spa on which I nearly killed myself. After nearly falling, I limped down the stairs and only then was able to see the "Careful! Slippery when wet!" sign they had put out to warn people. I guess they only wanted to warn people who were heading up the stairs...

On-Site Food/Drink Options: D. Aside from a good coffee place with terrific help ("The Buzz") and just-OK coffee in the gift shop, the food options on-site were both expensive and abysmal. We tried lunch at the restaurant by the main lifts (The Village Haus) and it was atrocious. Breakfast at the Roaring Fork wasn't substantially better -- food arrived lukewarm and poorly prepared. Gift shop items included a variety of microwaveable snacks and sandwiches and pastries of varying date and quality. Actually overheard the staff discussing how out-of-date the soy milk was and saying that since soy milk doesn't turn the way regular milk does it was OK to use as long as they gave it a sniff test. Astonishing. As for drinks, the Lazy Lizard Cantina is a perfectly run-of-the-mill bar with fairly expensive drinks. Didn't grab a drink elsewhere, but I'd expect more of the same overall.

Wireless Access: C-. No internet connectivity of any sort in the rooms, poor, slow, and unstable wireless connectivity available in the lobby. Inconvenient, occasionally frustrating, but at least it was available and free.

Skiing: Slopes B+, Layout C-. From a beginner's point of view, this was a great place to learn to ski. Plenty of snow, slopes were well groomed and wide, making it a lot easier to get a hang of things without killing ourselves. The kids ski school was quite nice, and the kids had a great time with their instructors. Our adult instructor, however, was pretty bad. Rude, snarky, and not very helpful. This may have been because they saddled him with 18 students for a 2 hour class, but that was hardly our fault. As a result, we learned little in the class. But still, we made due.

One HUGE downside to Angel Fire, though, is the number of stairs you have to climb to reach the lifts and slopes. Depending on where you walk from you must climb anywhere from 4 to 8 or 9 flights of stairs to reach the Chili Express ski lift. This can be pretty freakin' exhausting. Save some energy by taking advantage of the overnight gear storage racks located right by the rental shop -- for about $5 a day, you can avoid having to carry your crap all the way from the hotel and up 4 flights of stairs. You'll still be stuck climbing 4 or so more flights in your ski boots, but hey, it's an improvement.

Area Restaurants:

We only hit four area joints in Angel Fire. The Sunset Grill, located just across from the Chili Express lift, is pretty convenient for a quick bite during a ski break, and rates a pretty solid C. Decent food, reasonable prices. Nothing revelatory, could use better quality bread (everything tasted like it was served on hamburger rolls) but overall a fair choice and far superior to the fare available on-site. The Pizza Stop was atrocious -- D-. Expensive food, poorly prepared by rude staff in a fairly dirty and unkempt establishment. Avoid at all costs, unless you are truly desperate for mediocre pizza. The Our Place Cafe was adequate, but horribly overpriced, with fairly standard grub at high prices (Example: linguine with alfredo sauce and chicken for about $15, and I swear the alfredo sauce came out of a jar...). We heard their tilapia was quite good, though, but didn't try it. Finally, the local Chinese place (I've forgotten the name, but it's located right next to the Pizza Stop) was a pleasant surprise, generous portions of tasty food served in a pleasant room with friendly wait staff at reasonable prices. Definitely worth a visit, and easily the best value for your money in Angel Fire. Solid B+.

We also shot over to Red River for a bit of sightseeing and ate at the Sundance, a Mexican place. Top notch, and affordable. Definitely worth a stop if you're in the area. Best meal we had on our trip.

So, all in all a good trip. I think next time we'd definitely consider getting a condo so we could prepare our own meals, as there was little we found that I couldn't have made better myself, and for far less dough. And now that we know to store our equipment we could avoid lugging the gear around as much as we did. Still, Angel Frie was well worth the time and money, and we all had a great time.

Mood: Hungry, tired
Now Playing: Patty Griffin, "Children Running Through"

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Angel Fire, NM: Day 4 (Headin' Home)

No update yesterday. Incredibly busy day (I skied with Miranda, Christine snow tubed with Trevor, and then we trekked on out to Red River, NM for some sightseeing and a delicious TexMex dinner before heading home) and halfway through the evening I began to get sick as a dog: sniffling, sneezing, running a fever, and just generally feeling like crap on the bottom of someone's shoe. All of which made today's 13.5-hour, 735 mile drive home a real joy. But we're home, and safe, and exhausted. I'll be posting a trip review tomorrow, but tonight I need to sleep.

Mood: Exhausted
Now Playing: My own sniffly noises

Monday, February 05, 2007

Angel Fire, NM: Day 2

Second Day. Drinking beer. Writing execise? Why not.

Great day. Sooooo tired. Good sleep. Ate cereal. Dropped kids. Ankle sore: Kinda worried. Bought tickets. Damn expensive! Lugged gear. Tired already. Took lift. 10,000 feet! Felt dizzy. Skied down. Fell thrice. Rode lift. Skied down. No falling! Felt proud. Rode lift. Skied Down. Different route. Shorter runs. More complicated. No falls! Seriously proud. Rode lift.
Lonnnng run. Legs wobbly. Knees achey. No falls! Lunch time. Stow gear. Change footwear. Cross street. Decent sandwich. Reasonably priced! Paid bill. Donned gear. Final run! Rode lift. Long run. Snow icy. Terrain rough. Temperatures warm. Bumpy bumpy. Knees screaming. Legs failing. Fell once. Reached bottom. Sighed contentedly. Remove gear. Retrieved children. Took pictures. So cute! Drank cocoa. Bought pictures. So cute! Jacuzzi time! Children invaded. Left dejectedly. Looonnnng shower. Dinner time! Mediocre food. Terribly expensive. Kids showered. Bedtime reading. Bourbon rocks. Shiner Bock.

Bed time. But tomorrow? More skiing? Horseback riding? Snow tubing? Maybe both? Who knows.

Good night.

Mood: Exhausted.
Now Playing: Laurie Anderson, "Mister Heartbreak"

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Angel Fire, NM: Day 1

Well, first full day, I should say. And full it was, let me tell ya.

You know, this whole skiing thing is taking some effort to get into. I mean, the resort is great, the weather glorious (days in the mid-thirties, so cold enough to keep the snow from melting too much, but warm enough that it's not what you'd call frigid or bitter), and we've chatted up some really nice people (including quite a few from our home town -- seems a lot of folks head for late-season ski vacations when our school district does this Winter break thing...).

But man, I just can't cope with all of the damn equipment. I mean, we are constantly lugging almost a hundred pounds of crap everywhere with us. And this damn resort has TONS of stairs that need to be climbed to reach the slopes. So we're climbing about a dozen flights of stairs, in ski boots, all damn day long.

Fun isn't supposed to be this much work, is it? I mean, this really makes me miss scuba diving. Scuba has tons of equipment, sure, but once you begin the actual activity you're just sort of floating. Lugging the gear everywhere is just the beginning of the "fun" when you ski -- the actual act of skiing is pretty damn exhausting, as far as I can tell. Plus there's the whole scuba=warm and gorgeous places, skiing=cold and gorgeous places dichotomy.

And to make things worse, we're dressed to the gills for this stuff, because we're terrified of getting all cold and ruining our vacation. But the temperatures are so mild that we're SWELTERING in our ski gear. I literally sweat about 5 pounds of perspiration into my tank-top/thermal undershirt/long sleeve overshirt combo layers this morning. I was drenched, and completely dehydrated. And then I changed into lighter underlayers, and managed to sweat through them as well. At this rate I'll be wearing gym shorts and exercise gear for the trip home.

The actual skiing part of the vacation is going well, I suppose. We had a lesson with the Rudest Old Man Ski Instructor Ever this morning. He kept scolding everyone if they didn't listen carefully enough and getting all frustrated with us. I swear, I kept waiting for him to tell us to get off his damn lawn. Jerk. But then Christine and I decided to just jump in and take the "easy" lift to the top of the bunny slope. We did 4 runs this afternoon, and after falling TONS of times I finally managed to do the entire run without falling on my last try. That was pretty much my goal for the entire vacation, so I figure I'm golden.

Christine, on the other hand, is doing great -- never falls. I really think it has to do with our relative heights -- I'm nearly a foot taller than she is, and the higher center of gravity has to make SOME sort of difference. I have WAY better balance than she does in other aspects of our lives, but here I'm just flopping about like a fish out of water. Really makes me miss Tang Soo Do Academy and my training regimen, there. And makes me realize that I really have gained confidence in my abilities, whether I realize it or not. Here, I'm hesitant to jump back on the slopes cause it's real work, man. But at TSDA I can't wait to get back for another lesson, even when I have a rough night.

Anyhow, fairly injury free so far. No skiing injuries, at least -- I nearly killed myself climbing down the stairs from the hot tub, though. Stepped in a puddle, my foot went straight out in front of me and I nearly came straight down and tumbled ass over teakettle. Luckily my reflexes were up to snuff and I managed to grab both of the handrails and only just prevented my back or head from slamming into the tile steps. Still managed to whack the back of my right ankle good against 3 steps though, and it's killing me now. Hopefully it will settle down before hitting the slopes tomorrow. But wouldn't that have been the way? I go skiing and break my neck walking away from a hot tub. Sigh.

So, right now I can sort of kind of hear the end of the Superbowl going on. Watched literally none of it -- no interest, really. We went out for local Chinese food, which was startling tasty, actually. Now it's back up to the room for some wine and hang time with the family and sleeeeeeep.

Mood: Tired
Now Playing: Neko Case, "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood"

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Angel Fire, NM: Day .5

OK, so the drive here was uneventful but quite lengthy. We made almost 500 miles yesterday before I decided to grab some shut-eye in Clovis, NM. Not exactly a scenic roundabout, I'll tell you. Anyway, horrid hotel room: At first way too cold, then INCREDIBLY hot. Rotten night's sleep as a result. And it was this fairly small room -- maybe 300 sq. ft. -- but it was packed with crap: 2 double beds, 2 chairs, a table, and end table a hutch, TV, microwave, and fridge. you could barely walk to the bathroom without busting a toe on something or other.

Anyway, hit the road y 9:00 this morning and made our way up to Angel Fire. The ride was beautiful, particularly the past 100 miles or so. Living in the mostly-flat-with-the-occasional-gentle-incline place that is central Texas for the past 6 years, I'd forgotten what mountains look like. And lots of snow. Beautiful.

The Angel Fire Resort is quite nice: a bit past it renovate-by date, perhaps, but not much. The room is spacious and well maintained, with a fireplace and all sorts of room for storage. The snow looks to be terrific -- light and fluffy, not wet and nasty, so my first real ski experience, tomorrow, looks to be ideal.

Otherwise, the day has been a hectic mess. Checking in, exploring the hotel, messing around in the snow, and then trying to get things on track for tomorrow, without success. Apparently it was a slow night at the gear shop so they closed early, thereby preventing me from picking up our skis and stuff tonight. Food options in the resort are minimalist, to say the least. So we decided to wander into the town of Angel Fire (just down the street) and managed to latch onto a stray dog that was dodging cars. Great dog -- Labrador Retriever bitch, nice white patch on her chest, and extremely friendly. I swear, it seems that wherever I go stray dogs find me. Anyway, I stood around in the cold with this dog for nearly 40 minutes waiting for a local cop to show up to take her to the local animal hospital, and finally she'd had enough, busted away from me, and ran off. I hope she's okay.

And now I'm just sort of hanging in the hotel lobby. No wireless in the rooms, so this is my only option for internet-based fun. Working my way through a Shiner Bock, and when that's done I'll be heading back upstairs to read myself down and prepare for the long first day of skiing, tomorrow. Wish me luck, and visualize me walking under my own power at the end of the day, if you would.

Mood: Headache-y, beat
Now Playing: Clutch, "From Beale Street to Oblivion"