Charlie Brown Style Christmas TreeHappy holidays to everyone! I hope 2021 was a bit better for you than 2020 was.

Looking back, I had my share of disappointments this year. First and foremost was that as my 1-year lease came to a close on the townhouse I’m renting, I decided I wanted to make a purchase offer to my landlady. I really, really like this place—I like the location where I’m at near downtown Houston, I feel safe here (I’m behind two locked gates), I’m getting to know my very nice neighbors, and it’s quiet. Plus, the size, style and layout are just right for me. So, I got together with the realtor who helped me find this place and he did the necessary comps research. We came up with what we thought was a reasonable offer, about a month before my lease term ended (the property management company was pushing me to sign a new lease a full 2 months early). Well, to make a long story short, she said, not No, but “Hell no!” She wasn’t interested in selling, period. Wouldn’t even enter negotiations with me. And to make her point perfectly clear, she raised my rent! The best I could do was to get her to cut the amount she was going to raise it in half, in exchange for a 2-year lease. Oh well.

Photo of Christmas toy factoryMany of you know that my day job has been working as a technical editor for a peer-reviewed journal for the past 3 years (nearly full time, but still as a contractor). Well, this company, which shall remain nameless, tried to pull a fast one on me. They’d been going through tough financial times, as were all the companies in the oil and gas industry, and rumors were rampant that they were facing layoffs. Out of the blue one day, I received an email from my supervisor stating that “effective May 1, we will be paying you on a per-page basis, rather than a per-hour basis.” Now this took me aback, as you can well imagine. I stewed on that a day or so, and did my own calculations on the per-page rate they had come up with—it amounted to a 25% pay cut for me. Then I got the name of an attorney who specializes in employment and labor issues. I called up said attorney (starting the clock ticking away at $435/hr) and asked her, “They can’t do that, can they? I have a contract. And that contract says I get paid by the hour, not by the page. They can’t all of a sudden change the terms of my contract just because they’re in a pinch and want to save money. Don’t we have to renegotiate the terms of the contract?”

She told me to send her the contract and she would take a look. And sure enough, I was right. The only terms this contract had was that either party could cancel it at any time, but there were no provisions in there for the company to make these kinds of changes midstream. She helped me craft an email reply to my supervisor based on my rights and what my contract stated.

About a week later I sent the email to my boss, which effectively said, “I’m sorry, but no thank you. We’ll either continue at my current hourly rate, per my existing contract, or we’ll renegotiate a new contract, or we’ll cancel the contract completely. But our existing contract doesn’t give you the right to do this. So those are your choices.” After which I fully expected them to tell me to hit the road.

I guess they are not accustomed to contractors standing up for themselves. Much to my surprise, they said we’d keep things as they are for the time being, and perhaps revisit this in the near future, possibly with a new contract. I knew they were in the midst of planning for a layoff and had bigger fish to fry at the moment, but I also knew I was the only contractor they had in their journals department. I had a bit of leverage.

But the writing was on the wall with this company, as the work I was getting from them was dwindling more and more each week. So I began looking for other contracting opportunities immediately after that happened. I sent out feelers to several places, including to an oilfield services company I’d worked with twice before for long stints. A few months later, after their reorganization had time to settle, the oilfield services company started rehiring contractors again, and I was blessed to be one of the first hired by them!

Photo of a kitten playing with Christmas toys.

I worked for both companies for about 2 months before the first one finally cut me loose. But spending that $1500 with the attorney bought me an additional 5 months of time working at my regular rate and an invaluable lesson in standing up to a corporate bully. Yet, it was a disappointing end to 3 years of fulfilling work with this publisher; it’s not how I like projects to wrap up.

Of course, a roundup of 2021 news won’t be complete without mentioning this blog, GAIL’S STORY! To say I had no idea what I was getting into is the understatement of the year. I now refer to it as my “second full-time unpaid job.” I didn’t realize when I started this that within a few months I’d be learning new software, taking courses, devouring e-books, rejoining Facebook to learn from the blogging groups, becoming an affiliate marketer, and learning a whole new language—not just having fun writing stories and reliving a ton of memories. I thank all of YOU readers for sticking with me, all your encouragement, and your many entertaining comments along the way. It helps me more than you know.

Speaking of short stories, a little bit of good news: one of my stories has been accepted for publication! The web site Tiny Buddha (www.tinybuddha.com) is a site that focuses on mental health, well-being, fulfillment, positive relationships, overcoming adversity, etc. I submitted a personal story for their consideration this fall and I was notified that it will be published on their site sometime early in 2022. This will be the first time anything of mine will have been published in the creative writing realm (publishing myself doesn’t count!), so as you can imagine, my heart leapt up to my throat when I got the acceptance email!

That reminds me of something. The Tiny Buddha site owner, Lori Deschene, sent out a book recommendation that looks so good I wanted to share it with you guys. If you’re needing a last-minute stocking stuffer and like books that are full of inspiration, check out the book HumanKind: Changing the World One Small Act At a Time, by Brad Aronson [affiliate link]. Brad wrote this book after helping his wife through a leukemia diagnosis and treatment, and being overwhelmed by all the acts of kindness and generosity his family experienced from friends, family, and colleagues. He started writing down and collecting these stories, and tells how small acts can make a massive difference in the lives of others. The book is full of real-life, feel-good stories and ways to make a positive impact in the world around us. And the most inspiring thing of all is that all of his author’s royalties are donated to the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, so you make an impact just by buying the book!

Drawing of a shining Christmas tree with sparking star on topOn December 11, I once again enjoyed the Houston Symphony’s production of Handel’s Messiah. This has been my Christmas tradition for at least 40 consecutive years now; one way or another, I make sure it’s part of every Christmas, no matter where I am. Two of the most memorable were hearing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform it in Salt Lake City, Utah, and at the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, during a trip with my ex Bill. This year, I felt sorry for the performers, because except for the four soloists and the few people whose instruments had a mouthpiece, they all were wearing the dreaded mask—ugh! I can’t imagine singing for 2 hours and trying to make yourself heard through a mask. Yet they did a great job, because we could still make out every word. And, like clockwork, the Halleluiah! chorus made me cry. It always gets to me.

I wish you all a peaceful Christmas and a New Year full of hope!

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