Category Archives: jobhunting

Rain, rent and raising money for braces

Dressed in her Halloween best, Veeka vamps it up a bit with her candy around her. She did learn one does not trick or treat in heels.

Dressed in her Halloween best, Veeka vamps it up a bit with her candy around her. She did learn one does not trick or treat in heels.

I’m happy to say that a GoFundMe campaign I started a few weeks ago to raise funds for Veeka’s braces-to-come has brought in $1,100. The bad news: I have another $5-$6K to go! I really didn’t want to go this route, but after being unemployed for more than 18 months (other than freelance and substitute teaching gigs), desperate times call for desperate measures. Because of a tooth that is ravaging her gums, she not only has to have braces, but also some minor surgery to get that tooth back into position. Sigh. My health insurance – which goes up 25% in 2017 – only pays for braces for medical reasons, ie birth defects.
And so I’ve told friends that I need to raise at least $2,000 to call up the orthodontist and sign the contract for two years of braces. I realize that not all can or feel led to give, but if you do, feel free to click on the above link. As I’ve been agonizing over which health insurance to choose for 2017, I am trying to squelch feelings of panic at the thought of the incoming presidential administration doing away with Obamacare. On the other hand, it feels as though insurance companies have already abandoned it, as they are getting queasier and queasier about covering anything.
Meanwhile, the rich keep on getting richer in Seattle. The median income here is now $80K.
I wonder: How many of those people with supposedly higher salaries are over 50? That’s where the real unemployment is. Past a certain age, it’s impossible to get a 9-5 job that pays more than $15/hour. Try living on that.

Veeka also got new glasses this fall because we've discovered she is farsighted.

Veeka also got new glasses this fall because we’ve discovered she is farsighted.

Or, $20/hour is what local school districts pay emergency subs, which is a good way to pick up some money if you have a degree but no teaching certificate. That’s what I’m doing two days a week, but compared to what I used to make, it isn’t much, folks. Even full-time public school teachers often only  make in the $40s around here. That’s nuts.
As many of you know, one of the many ways I eke out a living is to do freelance writing. I was on a conference call today (Dec. 12) with a group of other religion reporters and we were talking about how tough it is to sell your pieces for good money.
Try getting paid more than, say, $300, max $400 for a 1,200-word story. That’s about 30-40 cents a word. (The decent pay is $1/word for those of you not in the know.) I’ve been amazed at the low rates publications in the Seattle area pay people, considering the expense of living here.
Nevertheless, I’ve come out with three pieces since I last blogged. This piece on Jim Eichner, a local Episcopal priest who runs a food bank, came out in the November issue of 425, a magazine for Seattle’s Eastside. Yes, Jim is the same priest who was at my dad’s bed side right before he died. Then, the Washington Post ran two of my travel pieces two weekends in a row. This piece on cross-country skiing in the Methow Valley ran the weekend of Nov. 11 and my grand-circle-around-British-Columbia piece ran the following weekend. So…I am selling more travel than religion pieces.

Veeka and her little first-cousin-once-removed Wyatt relaxing at Oma's.

Veeka and her little first-cousin-once-removed Wyatt at Oma’s.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of articles out there about house prices that continue to soar.
In late October, my brother Rob and his wife, Jan, moved from Maryland to Washington, choosing to settle somewhere on the Kitsap peninsula where the weather is a lot better than here! They chose a place in the fast-growing retirement haven of Sequim, and managed to grab a place that’s being built now. They felt lucky to get that. Nearly everyone I know is renting. No one can afford to buy. Well, I do have a friend who just bought a townhome near me and he paid a cool half a million to get it. Maybe the top 1% is doing well here, but there’s a lot of us who aren’t.
It’s been a quiet fall for us, with just one trip out of town to Portland to attend a banquet for Good Samaritan Ministries on Nov. 5. Veeka has started fifth grade and we squeezed in after-school hikes and swims in local lakes before the weather went south on us. And it looks like it’s going to be another record breaker for rain this season. While Alaska enjoys almost historically warm temps, we’ve had record-breaking rainfall. Veeka and I grimly joke that we’re both gaining weight because we get no exercise on the weekends because it’s always a.) raining and b.) cold.

Right off the TV screen: Election night 2016

Right off the TV screen: Election night 2016

As for other things: The election? Totally shocked, as everyone else was. I’m in the weird place of being glad Hillary lost but not overjoyed that Trump won, especially since he looks to be trying to dismantle half the federal agencies in one swoop. He’ll have one enemy in me if he touches healthcare. I will say I was beyond amused at the stunned looks on many of the TV anchors’ faces as the returns came in and it was clear that Hillary was not sweeping the country – or the Electoral College – as we thought would happen. So many in the media totally misread the mood of the country. I wish I could say that, one month later, I see a difference in coverage but I don’t. I mean, you have New York Times editor Dean Baquet saying they need to cover religion far more than they do. Well, no kidding. But until I see the want ads go up for an extra handful of religion reporters at the Times, I won’t believe a word he says. I heard similar breast beating back in 2004 when George Bush beat John Kerry and everyone wondered what hole those Protestant evangelicals had crawled out of. In December 2004, I wrote a column for Poynter.org using “It’s the hiring, stupid,” instead of the better-known saying “It’s the economy, stupid,” to point out that media organizations have been stinting on good religion coverage for a long time. I named names, calling out specific newspapers that had either left the beat empty or hired ingénues for the beat instead of seasoned reporters, making for some pretty clueless stories. Meanwhile, they scoured the country to hire for beats they considered more important like health, tech and real estate. So, of course they miss what’s really going on by a mile.

Farewell to the admiral

Veeka and I in front of St. Mark's Cathedral

Veeka and I squinting in the sun in front of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle.

I think one of the loveliest moments during my dad’s funeral last Sunday was listening to the organ play “Nimrod” from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations. If you have never listened to it, do so by clicking on the link. It’s lovely and poignant.
We were fortunate in that although the day started out with rain, the sun was coming out as we approached the church. And during the reception, it was warm enough to leave the doors open.
The family had a brief Communion service just before the funeral, then all of us processed into the nave at St. Mark’s Cathedral. Coast Guard Admiral Mark Butt, who had just moved to Seattle three weeks before, showed up at my mother’s side to walk her down the aisle. I was so grateful for that. My mom had been married 65 years and she’s used to having my dad walk with her. I processed with Veeka, who was delighted with her sleeveless black dress and new high heels.
IMG_2111The funeral program came with two photos: One of my dad in full dress uniform and one of him relaxing during a vacation in Israel. He was sitting in a hotel garden in Jerusalem when a stray kitty wandered by and jumped into his lap and took a snooze. My dad loves cats and that photo was so him.
My brothers and I read from Scriptures that my father had selected years ago that he would like read when the time came. We sang his favorite hymns, including “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and of course “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” Then after prayers and a short sermon given by the dean of the cathedral, a bugler played “Taps,” during which two US Coast Guard men in uniform unfurled a flag and held it up for all to see. Then Admiral Butt presented it to my mother.

Admiral Butt presenting the flag to my mom and thanking her for my dad's many years of military service.

Admiral Butt presenting the flag to my mom and thanking her for my dad’s many years of military service.

Adding to the drama was a congregant seated in the front row across the aisle from us who fainted at that point. As people rushed to his side, they could not find a pulse for a brief moment, but fortunately he eventually revived, right in time for the 911 medics who came dashing in. Never a dull moment.
Afterwards, the reception table was laden with a huge spread, including the wine and cheese that my dad insisted we have, because going to heaven is a celebration, right?
I am so grateful to some of my friends who showed up; a couple from Church of the Redeemer who lives just east of me and some friends who made the three-hour drive from Portland, which is true commitment! Three of my dad’s nieces flew in: One from California and two from Minnesota. There’s not much you can say during these times, but presence means everything. And for the 137+ who sent me messages on Facebook along with a few who sent personal notes, thank you as well. I’ve learned that when death happens, it’s important to say *something” even if it’s only a few words and nothing profound. Believe me, those grieving notice every kindness.
And so we adjust to the new normal, as my mother is now living alone, although her friends at the retirement home promise me they will keep her busy. And I live only 14 miles away; Steve is three hours away and Rob is moving back to the area in the fall. With us, there is little other news. A journalism/PR position came open at the last minute at university just south of me, but I lost out to someone with a PhD. In that I’d just gotten another MA to ward off such a possibility, it wasn’t enough.

Age discrimination is simply everywhere.

Me running away from it all by skiing at Stevens Pass.

Me running away from it all by skiing at Stevens Pass.

See this picture of me skiing? That’s what I do when I can’t handle the age discrimination in the job market. After eight months of applying to everything from Amazon to Alaska Airlines’ magazine, I’m amazed when my resume and cover gets no responses. OK, we’ve got two master’s degrees here, a distinguished job record and joy of joys: This weekend the Washington Post is publishing my travel article on the Dalton Highway in Alaska’s far north. You’d think articles like that would at least get me a call back. I’ve won awards for my writing all over the country but the past eight months has been a frustrating desert.
People ask me: Why aren’t you a technical writer? Well…here’s what Google expects of its tech writer applicants for jobs in their spiffy low-slung white-walled office building in Kirkland:

Responsibilities
• Learn complex technical information and write technical documentation for Google engineers, such as architectural overviews, tutorials for software developers, API programming guides, and more.
• Respond to technical questions from Google engineers about the subject matter that you documented.
• Edit documents written by others; coach engineers to improve their writing skills.
• Develop tools and processes to automate document creation and maintenance.
• Read and write code in C++, Java, JavaScript or Python.

Sorry, folks, I don’t do Python. Even non-techie places like the real estate company Zillow has openings with these names: Data scientist, quantitative analyst, graphics engineer, senior IOS engineer. I’d need a third MA for that. Jobs that end with the disclaimer “college degree required” are not aimed at anyone over 25. A lot of companies want advertising or design agency experience, which I don’t have. I loved getting this second MA, but it is not helping me get hired. So I run away and drag Veeka on mountain hikes like Little Si, whose summit is shown below.

At the top of Little Si in North Bend. This charming hike in the Cascades was crowded due to the long-awaited sun. Veeka is in the foreground.

At the top of Little Si in North Bend. This charming hike in the Cascades was crowded due to the long-awaited sun. Veeka is in the foreground.

There was a fascinating Seattle Times article about how local industry is scrambling for talented help. Then I read the comments section where folks over 50 were saying no one’s looking for them. One person wrote:
“On the one hand, a company doesn’t want to spend time/money on giving a older worker any “on the job training.” And on the other hand a company will hire a new graduate with no real world working experience – and spend $$ more on extra perks and creating a youth culture environment. That student usually is ill-prepared to hit-the-ground-running at a new job. They may as well help train the older worker, it’s probably less expensive.”
Then someone with 30 years in Systems Engineering and Systems Management in the IT field said he couldn’t find work because companies are hiring college grads and H-1B visa foreign workers.
Person after person (in this same comments section) talked about the willing and desperate older workers who’d take jobs in a second. For example, one wrote, Microsoft is willing to train young veterans with minimal tech experience by giving them classes in the basics, then putting them to work in entry-level jobs. Why not tap the “older worker” in the same manner? Many already have much tech experience and only need a refresher class to bring them up to date, and a chance to work.
Another said, Yep, I agree with you but don’t expect anything to change. I’m in my 60’s, EE, mgmt experience, web design, C, C++, HTML/CSS/js, sql, php and electronics design experience but nobody will even call or email back if I put my history on the resume. (The reason why, he added, as that older people don’t want to work 100-hour weeks, they want decent pay and they tend to get sick more).
Another said: You would do very well getting high-paying temporary assignments. You can make a living that way if you have skills that are in demand–I do, and I’m not even in tech. If they don’t have to pay you benefits, employers don’t care how old you are.

At least someone in our family is making money. Last day for Girl Scout cookies

At least someone in our family is making money. Last day for Girl Scout cookies

And even if you do get hired, if you’re female, you’ll still get paid less, according to this  New York Times piece.

Surely, folks tell me, you could get hired by Amazon? They’re scooping up as many humans as possible to move to Seattle. Well, here is what they are looking for in a tech writer:
• Degree in English, Technical Writing, Computer Science or related field highly desirable
• Experience with cloud/Web Services, IaaS, PaaS, or related areas is a plus
• Previous experience working with agile project management methodologies is a plus
• Programming skills in at least one programming language, such as Java, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, PHP, or .NET (C#) is a plus
• Experience with GitHub a plus
• Experience working directly with engineering teams

I don’t even know what PHP is. I do know what Ruby is, though. Should I try somewhere else? How about the travel company Expedia? Well, here’s their ad:

Expedia is seeking an experienced IT professional with a background in Technical Writing, Onboarding & Operational Readiness. The person will have responsibility for the creation/editing of technical content created by the Engineering teams and create onboarding/transition-support documentation, operational processes and procedures for the EDW Platform. This is a key role that will involve you partnering with the Engineering teams and creating the right level of high quality documentation and ensure that all procedural / technical details are gathered completely and accurately. This is a senior role that will require you to be self-disciplined, self-motivated professional. This will be a rich, rewarding opportunity for the right professional, to include exposure to some of the best IT talent and technologies in the world, and an opportunity to be largely self directed and to be afforded creative latitude to develop the processes for this new function.

Veeka and her troop hard at work selling those Thin Mints. Companies are hiring folks closer to her age than mine.

Veeka and her troop hard at work selling those Thin Mints. Companies are hiring folks closer to her age than mine.

One bright spot this month was that Veeka sold 55 boxes of Girl Scout cookies by slogging it out door to door and then she earned about 100 more points  helping sell cookies in front of various Safeways and WalMarts. I taught her how to present the cookie sale sheet; how to explain what each cookie contains and that we don’t collect the $4/box now but later when we deliver and by the time we were doing the last 10, she was getting pretty accomplished at her spiel. I had hoped for 30 sales; she easily surpassed that during our walks around the complex where we live, so I began to hope for more. We had finally reached 50 and were walking home when we dropped by a neighbor I’d met by the condo dumpster, who ordered 4 more. Veeka gets a badge if she reaches 55, so I threw in a box for us and her goal was met. And we got to meet a bunch of people near where we live.