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Once I got to high school, my neighborhood was just the place that my house happened to be, but otherwise ignored by me. I even took the shortest route in and out of it every time I came and left. I was more aware of what was happening on the other side of town than what was happening just a few doors down from where I lived. I moved out for college in 1998. My mother still lives in that house. Now she’s the elderly empty nester. I’m sure that, once she moves out, some local investor will buy her house, fix it up nice, and rent it to a family on government assistance. That’s what they did to my grandmother’s house down the street when she died a few years ago.

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We were still newlyweds, having married when I got pregnant. Our daughter was only a few months old. My (now ex) husband had been in the Army, but after his time was up, he decided not to reenlist and so we left Frankfurt Germany and headed to his family home in North Carolina. We were staying at his father’s house until our place was finished. One morning, the baby was still sleeping and my ex and I got intimate. We were being very quiet, so we didn’t wake the baby up, and were entangled in quiet a compromising position, when I heard a tiny voice say, “Oh!”. I glanced up just in time to see my ex’s grandmother standing in the doorway. My ex said, “Mammaw, go away, I’m busy.”

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Not my boss, but the company HR department. Not tried to implement, actually implemented. I was in management at the time, and this was in the 1980’s. I was an I.T. manager for a moderately large oil company. Up until that time, performance reviews and raises had been relatively simple and straight forward. Departments were allocated a “pot” of money to be handed out, and it was up to managers to decide who got how much of that pot based on their previous performance. Simple. Then some genius in HR read some article, or attended some conference, and came back with this “revolutionary” idea, all based on a standard bell curve. The whole policy surrounding reviews and raises was changed.

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After that, reviews and ratings themselves were forced to fit a standard bell curve. This meant that every year, there were only a very few top ratings that were “allowed” to be given out, accompanied by a very few “bottom of the barrel” ratings that were forced to be given out. Most of the ratings were clustered around “average”, or rather were forced to be – all in order to “fit the curve”. Actual performance be damned. That was bad enough, but oh, it gets worse. The way this new policy was implemented was that at the BEGINNING of the review period, all of the managers in closely related departments would spend a couple of days in a room, meeting and fighting. My group and team was included with about 4 others managed by 4 other people.

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The number of ratings for each category, ranging from “walks on water without getting wet feet” to “average Joe(sephina)” to “why is this person still employed here?” had been set in stone by HR already and allocated across all 5 teams. It was up to us, the managers of those teams, to allocate those ratings across our people on all 5 teams. So, the 5 of us managers would spend a couple of days, at the BEGINNING of the review period to argue, fight, cajole, beg, and plead to try to do the best we could for our people. Did you have a 3–4 guys who were really “killing it” and deserved to be recognized and rewarded? Didn’t matter. There were only 4 of the top ratings “available” to be handed out over all 5 teams, and once those 4 had been assigned, that was it.

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But, for now at least, my mother’s neighbors are nice to her. They mow her lawn for her and otherwise leave her alone. She doesn’t have anything worth stealing, and people are usually nicer to the elderly anyway. My childhood experiences in that neighborhood are why I’m so happy when I see my children playing with the kids from down the block. I live in a very family-friendly neighborhood, picked specifically so that my children wouldn’t have to go through the same neighborhood issues I went through as a child.

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