Busy Season, silly season

Hello everyone! It’s me again, Makena, the blogging dog!

makena blogging 2-09-2014

Keeping my peeps informed!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  I had a good turkey day, as my mom made a turkey breast in the crockpot.  I had to spend 4 long hours smelling that turkey….fortunately, a few pieces magically fell into my dish!

My parents have begun the crazy, busy season at Amazon, so I thought I would take the time to update the blog.  They have now started the 59 1/2 hour work weeks.  They were not going to do these, but then Amazon again offered a $100 VISA gift card for each week that you work it.  And they said it is only for 3 weeks, so they can suck it up!  I really don’t like it, as it makes for long days for me.

With these long days, I have been limited on my play time in the park across the street.  It is dark when they leave, and dark when they get home.  One thing I have learned from my cat friends, is how to make your owners feel guilty. You can either ignore them, or poop outside the litter box.  Since I can’t do the latter,  I have been ignoring them, with great success.   They now make it a priority to play with me on their limited time off.

 

I do have a dog walker, Rob, that takes me out every day for a long walk.  I really appreciate it, as I don’t like to cross my paws, even if I have four of them.  It sure would have been nice if my buddy Fred would have picked me up on the way to Florida.  That would have been great!

We did have a  major crisis recently.  The dog food that I have enjoyed for my 8 1/2 years has been discontinued!  My parents went to the pet store to look for new food, but came back empty-handed.  Apparently they were too overwhelmed with the dozens of different brands, all claiming their food was the best for your pet.  And my mom noticed many of the brands are now “grain free”.  She is a label reader, and said the grain free products are also much higher in calories.   Since I just spent the past summer working off the 1/2 pound that I gained, she was concerned about the calories.

So she e-mailed Dr. Jodie, my doctor back in Wisconsin.  She recommended Natures Variety, which offers both a grain-free and a holistic blend, which has whole grains.  So my mom placed an order with my favorite website, Chewy.com, and I had a big package to open!  Christmas came early!

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Chewy to the rescue!

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Score!!!

I must say the chicken and brown rice is super tasty!!!!  And Nature’s Variety also makes peanut butter and banana flavored dog biscuits, that are excellent!  Thanks Dr. Jodie for the recommendations, and to Chewy for super fast delivery and much better prices than that place my parents are working for.

Hopefully, we will be in Florida soon.  My parents are hoping to be done on Saturday, December 19, but they have been told to expect to work until December 23rd.  That is what they have to commit to, in order to receive their end of season bonus ($1/hour for every hour worked).  Oh well, it should go by quickly!

Take care everyone!

Quote for the Day:  “Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.” – Doug Larson

 

 

Week 2: our first 50 hour week is done

We decided to jump right into the swing of things, and picked up voluntary overtime this week.  Going from 4 five-hour days right into 5 ten-hour days was a little tough on the feet!  But our goal this year at Amazon is “fatter wallet, slimmer waist”!!  And the 50 hour weeks will help us achieve that goal in no time.

There are two main picking areas at the Jeffersonville center:  East and West.  Last year we were both on the West side the entire time, until our very last day when I “moved on up” to the East side.  I happily discovered it was the easier side to pick, since the majority of the pickers, stowers and ICQA employees were assigned to the West side.  The two sides are identical, except for the fourth floor.  The West side contains the HRV floor (high retail value), consisting of watches and jewelry.  The East side just has more clothing on the fourth floor.

This week, they moved all the Camperforce employees to the East side, and stated we will remain there the rest of the season.  It is closer to our lockers and the seasonal break room, so it made sense to move all of us there.  Those of us that picked on the West side last year are thrilled to be on the “easier” and less crowded side of the building.

Also new this week, Amazon removed the metal detectors at the entrances, and replaced them with RFID panels.  I am not sure how this technology works, but we no longer have to remove items from our pockets (keys, coins, etc).  You just simply walk between the panels on the way out.  It used to take several minutes (or more during peak) to go through the metal detectors.  Now it takes no additional time at all.  You still need to stop at a table if you are carrying a lunch bag or purse, but it is a huge time saver.

They post a weekly newsletter on the back of the bathroom stalls (Dan says they are also posted above the urinals), and this past week they hired an additional 200 employees as they start ramping up for peak season.  Although this is not a job I would want to do year round, Amazon does offer some nice benefits for their employees, including fully paid health insurance and stock options.

Mandatory overtime has been called for the upcoming week. Amazon has opened up their Halloween “store” and are having a sale.  They are expecting a very large volume of orders this week.  Camperforce is required to do the mandatory overtime, up to 50 hours.  We are happy to have the hours.  And we both enjoy picking Halloween costumes.  They are easy to pick, as they stand out in a drawer of socks, shirts, jeans, jackets and underwear.  It is also fun to see what people are planning to dress up as.  Some of you are going to be very “naughty” this Halloween, as we have seen a lot of very “adult” costumes! In fact, we are picking about five times more adult Halloween costumes compared to the kids.

Tonight we are having another get together with our fellow Camperforce employees.  The best part of Amazon is the social side.  You sure do meet a lot of great people!

Tomorrow (Tuesday) is our overtime day, and then back to our Wednesday through Saturday schedule.  Wednesday is “pink out” day, to show support for breast cancer research.  Looking forward to another “fun” week!

Work….eat….sleep….repeat!  This will be our life for 10 more weeks!

Quote for the day:  “What’s dangerous is to not evolve.” – Jeff Bezos

Week one of our fitness program is done! (Amazon year 3)

We have finished up our first week as Pickers at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Jeffersonville, Indiana.  This is our 3rd year as part of the Camperforce team with Amazon.  After 2 years at the Campbellsville, Kentucky center, we decided to work in Indiana this year.

Last November, we were a part of 98 Camperforce employees that transferred to Jeffersonville, to help out with their peak season (from Thanksgiving to Christmas).  We enjoyed our time there, so when they decided to add this location as part of their Camperforce location, we applied here.  You can read about last years events here.

This year Amazon again offered four locations for their Camperforce program.  That is what they call their work campers that they hire.  Campbellsville and Murfeesboro, TN were the returning centers.  New this year is Jeffersonville, and Haslet, TX.  We briefly considered going to the Texas location, but then we found out that facility uses the robots.  With the robots, you stand in one area, and the robot brings the pod containing the merchandise to you.  Then you pick the item you need, and the next bin is brought to you.  We did not want a stationary job, so we ruled out going to Texas.  We enjoy the freedom you have with picking, along with all the exercise.  We often refer to Amazon as our 12 week fitness plan.  They are paying us to exercise!

Amazon pay/benefits

Amazon has standardized their pay for Camperforce.  It is $10.75/hour at all facilities.  You can earn $1.00/hour completion bonus for every hour that you work, if you make it to your release date (no later than 12/23).  In addition, Amazon pays for your full hook-up campsite, including electricity.  The campsites vary as far as amenities.

Amazon has four 10 hour days, and there will be both voluntary and mandatory overtime, which is paid at time and a half.  The mandatory overtime usually comes in November and December.  Another reason we choose Jeffersonville, is the possibility of a lot of overtime, due to the tremendous growth in the apparel business.

Types of Jobs

I have previously written about the various jobs, so I won’t go into too much detail.  If you are interested in learning more about Amazon, type in the word Amazon in the search box on our website, and it should bring up all the prior posts that I have done.

Amazon has two basic types of jobs:  mobile and stationary.  The mobile jobs are Picking (using a hand-held scanner to identify the location and product, you pick the item and place it in a tote). Stowing is also a mobile job, and you take a cart full  of merchandise and place it on the shelves.

The stationary jobs are Receiving (unloading trucks) and Packing (putting the merchandise in boxes for shipping).

Jeffersonville, IN

Jeffersonville specializes in apparel, shoes, jewelry and watches.  Apparel is the fastest growing segment of Amazon’s business.  This center was opened in 2012, and the business continues to grow.  They are expecting orders to be up 30% over last year.  We have noticed there is more merchandise already than last December when we arrived.

We wanted to work here this year, because Picking is easier than Campbellsville.  You do not get bumped around to different buildings and different floors.  The place is so big, that you can work on one floor most of the day.  And clothing is easier to pick than some of  the big, bulky heavy items that Campbellsville currently carries.

Campbellsville is in the process of remodeling over the next several years, and will eventually be mostly apparel as well.

Week One

Our first week consisted of one eight-hour day with orientation, paperwork and safety school.  The next four days were only 5 hours, and involved working in the picking department.  They refer to this as “work hardening”, and it really helps us get used to all the walking.  This year Amazon is allowing employees to wear Fitbit’s and other wearable exercise tracking devices.  So I will be keeping track of my steps again this year.

Week two consists of the four 10 hour days.  We were happy when they announced voluntary overtime, and we signed up for it.  Camperforce employees are only required to do overtime when it is mandatory, so only a handful of us signed up this week.  Nothing like going right into 50 hour work weeks!

On our two days off, after running a lot of errands, we did go down to the riverfront and walk over from Indiana to Louisville, KY on the Big Four Bridge.  Originally, this was built as a railroad bridge across the Ohio river, it was abandoned in 1969, and was redone into a pedestrian/bicycle bridge in 2013.

Big Four Bridge

Big Four Bridge

Big Four

Big Four

In addition, we got together with several of our fellow Camperforce workers for a nice dinner at Boombozz pizza in Jeffersonville.  You don’t have much time for socializing at work, so it was nice to get together with our fellow workers.  We are going to try to do a weekly get together, as we are all working the same shift in Jeffersonville.

Only 11 more weeks to go….but who’s counting?  (I am!)

Quote for the day:  “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.”  – Jimmy Johnson

Hiking in Montana with Friends from Wisconsin

We received a text message from Dan’s former co-worker, Laura, stating she would be in Bozeman, MT for her nieces wedding. Laura is a high-school science teacher, and once a year I would take over her anatomy classes for a “career day” and talk about a career as a Radiologic Technologist, and go over the various areas (X-ray, CT, MRI, etc. that you could specialize in). I think both the students and the teacher enjoyed having a “day off” from their regular classroom studies.

Dan and I made plans to get together for a short hike with Laura and her husband Mike in Bozeman, at Drinking Horse Mountain. In the photo below, there is an “M” on the hill. (upper left)  That is another hiking trail, but we opted not to do that one. Our hike had both  ‘easy’ and ‘difficult’ options. We chose to go up the ‘easy’ route, which was also the more scenic of the two options. The trail is very dog friendly, and we encountered many off-leash dogs along the way. Sorry Makena, but you weren’t invited on this trip.

The begining

The beginning

We have had several months to adjust to the altitude, but it does catch people by surprise when they first arrive to the area. We stopped for several breaks and photo opportunities along the way.

Mike and Laura

Mike and Laura

The ‘easy’ portion of the trail.

The 'easy' trail

The ‘easy’ trail

When we arrived at the top, we noticed someone had built a make-shift ‘shelter’. The view of Bozeman from the top provides a nice contrast of the “big city” living in a rural setting.

City of Bozeman

City of Bozeman

view from the top

view from the top

The crew is still looking fresh at the top!

Ready to head down

Ready to head down

We had a wonderful hike with Laura and Mike. Dan was able to get caught up on many of the happenings at the high school for the past two years. After our hike we decided to check out downtown Bozeman for lunch. The downtown area, despite the usual big box stores and a mall, has many unique and thriving businesses. We had a great time for lunch, and then checked out the local distillery and micro-brewery that was also located downtown.

lunch downtown

cheers to lunch downtown

Montana is known for Huckleberries, and the distillery makes a huckleberry vodka, for use in Moscow mule drinks.

my new 'hiking' outfit!

my new ‘hiking’ outfit!

The brew pub has what they call a “frost line” on the bar that you can set your beverages on. We all thought that was a nice feature to keep your beverages ice-cold.

the frost line

the frost line

cheers

We tried a little sampler platter of local brews

We said our good-byes for now, and made the 90 mile drive back ‘home’. Mike and Laura’s kids were going to be flying into Bozeman later that night. A few days later, they made the drive down to West Yellowstone, along with a number of other relatives. They rented out a bus and did an all-day tour of Yellowstone National Park.

Before heading back to Bozeman, they stopped in to our store, and Dan was thrilled to spend some time catching up with their kids, Rachel, Michelle and Ryan.  Dan had all three of their kids in his math classes.

Rachel, Michelle, Dan and Ryan in the store

Rachel, Michelle, Dan and Ryan in the store

It was nice for all of them to take some time out of their busy “wedding week” to spend some time with us. We look forward to catching up with them again in the not too distant future.

Quote for the day:  “Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us.  Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.” – Andy Rooney

A busy few weeks in Wisconsin//Stuck in South Dakota!

Our time in Wisconsin has gone by fast, as we get ready to head out to West Yellowstone, Montana for our summer jobs.  I spent several days getting poked and prodded with all sorts of medical tests.  I knew I was in for some fun when my doctor said “welcome to your 50’s, let’s get a colonoscopy!!”  Makena also had her veterinary appointment, but Dan declined any visits at this time.  He wanted to wait and see how our new insurance will cover all my tests, before he undergoes his own. We were happy that they covered everything at 100%.  Unfortunately, Assurant Health has decided they were not making as big of a profit under the new law, so they are going to sell off their health insurance line of business, but keep the more profitable ‘pre-paid funeral expenses’ and other ‘disability’ lines of insurance.  So next year we will be looking for a new carrier.  We will try to schedule Dan’s appointments in the fall, before we start back at Amazon.

The truck had some recall work done, an oil change, and new brakes done for 1/3 of the cost the Ford dealer wanted! (thanks Kevin!).  Dan is feeling better about taking the 5th wheel up into the mountains this summer. (more on the truck later)

We cleaned and defrosted the refrigerator, and fully restocked our freezer and pantry.   The nearest Wal-Mart to West Yellowstone is 84 miles (one way), so we wanted to stock up on food.  There is a grocery store in town according to our employer, but with being in such a remote area, we are anticipating “sticker shock” on the food prices.

We were able to visit with some friends and family, but time goes by too fast to see everyone.  My niece Molly had her last all district choir concert, which we were able to attend.  Not sure who was more excited….my niece or my sister and brother-in-law realizing they did not have to attend any more of these performances! We did enjoy Molly’s performance.

Margie, Molly, Greg

Margie, Molly, Greg

We also celebrated my sister-in-law Annette’s birthday.

Annette, Brian, me & Dan

Annette, Brian, me & Dan

Dinners with friends Dave and Angie, Mike and Karlyn and Robin and Mary on various nights reminded us we need to start exercising again!  Good thing there a lot’s of hiking trails in Yellowstone!

And we had our now annual ‘patio beer’ with my former co-worker Amy!

Cheers

Cheers

THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY!

I started a draft of this blog a week ago, and was planning on posting it when we left Wisconsin.  We had to leave a few days earlier than expected, because of some additional repair work that needed to be done on the 5th wheel.  Look for a future post on that.  After leaving Indiana, we had two very long driving days to get out to Rapid City, SD.  Our goal was to meet up with Tom and Ellen, our co-workers for our summer job.  And we wanted to visit with Phil and Rudee, our co-workers from last summer at Crazy Horse.  We did make it here in time, and had a nice get together.

Unfortunately, the truck started making a bad noise about 20 miles before we arrived to Rapid City, and eventually the ‘check engine’ light came on! So a trip to the Ford dealer revealed the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’.  Some exhaust tube thingy in the engine broke, blowing exhaust fumes into the dash, and melting part of the windshield wiper fluid lines.  The part in the middle that is all black is the culprit.

burned out part

burned out part

The good news is that all of this is covered under the 100,000 mile manufacturer’s engine warranty.  The bad news is they have to order parts from Colorado, and they will not arrive until Monday.  Therefore, we will not be able to start our summer jobs on time.

And now for the UGLY:  There is a winter storm warning this weekend!  6 – 12 inches of snow is expected by Sunday here in Rapid City!  Ugh!

The Ford dealer is hoping the parts won’t be delayed by the storm.

So we are just going to sit still for a few days.  We are trying to take a positive view of all of this.  “No rain. No rainbows” is a popular slogan in our favorite state of Hawaii.  A simple saying, but sometimes you need a few bad things as a reminder to always appreciate the good things.  Wish us luck!

Quote for the day:  “There is something good in all seeming failures.  You are not to see that now.  Time will reveal it.  Be patient.” – Swami Sivananda