Although we might complain from time to time, more often than not we're grateful that technology allows us to be so constantly connected. It makes an enormous globe seem small, etc. You’ve long since learned the drill.

    What irks us now and then is that we can never seemingly get away, like, for real. We can never fully disconnect. Or, to put it in more concise fashion, we're never allowed to disconnect, to disengage. Sure, being a part of a busy, bustling family is one thing, and you’re always going to be at least somewhat tuned in to what you need to do to keep all of that together, and what your loved ones expect you to do to keep things running smoothly.

    But when it comes to our jobs, is it really a vacation from work if we bring our laptop along just to "go through some emails"? If we're soaking up some rays on a beach but our phone is within reach just in case anyone from work absolutely has to get in touch with us, are we in full getaway mode?

    I'm as guilty as anyone of never fully disconnecting. I suppose, given that the industry in which I work is all about being connected and knowing and disseminating the latest information on a plethora of timely topics, I have a solid excuse to bring a laptop on long weekends and summer trips, and a justification to grab my phone at least every couple of hours to scroll through my email inbox or the latest headlines.

    This is America, after all. Other developed nations might have more lenient work environments and a more evenly balanced work life/personal life ratio. Their powers-that-be might even embrace afternoon naps. But in America, if you want to stay employed, stay relevant and stay needed, you'd better never entirely be off the clock.

    We're even guilted into it. It's a paid vacation, after all; would it kill us to check in real quick at work now and then just to make sure the sky hasn't fallen? After all, we’re getting paid our full wage while enjoying, if not 100% leisure time, at least 85%, right?

    But what if we're not getting paid a dime? What if we aren't given a choice to be away from work? What if we are told to leave, as in, required to?

    That's the basis for these thoughts today, being tapped out on my laptop a few hours after my forced one-week furlough from the Crookston Times officially expired. I was off work without pay from April 20-24. I’ll have to do the same thing again in May and also in June. Others at the Times are in the same boat. The Times' owner, Gannett, is the largest newspaper outlet in the nation after its merger with former Times' owner Gatehouse Media last year, and not only do costs have to be trimmed because of the revenue loss due to COVID-19, millions of dollars must also must be cut in order to make the mega-merger work financially.

    On one hand, one should be grateful to only be facing three weeks of unpaid furlough over three months; others in the company are not as fortunate. Among them is Nolan Beilstein, the former Times sports editor who took a position in South Carolina last year at a somewhat larger newspaper within the company. He was told last Friday his position is being eliminated. No mere furlough for Nolan, he’s done.

    It's funny how, when you are told that if you reply to a single work-related email during a forced, unpaid furlough you will be in big trouble, you suddenly find the inner gumption to disconnect more than you ever have. The guilt just seems to magically evaporate, along with your compensation.

    And then you and your spouse form a to-do list as your week off approaches, and a few days later, when you’re literally battered and bruised, scratched and poked and stiff and sore, you feel less pained by the fact you were deemed expendable enough to boot out of the office for a week, and more proud of all the big tasks you accomplished around your house and yard.

    I had “kitchen day,” during which I scrubbed and organized cabinets and cupboards, and by cutting and fitting some old trim pieces, I transformed our spice-drawers-from-hell into a situation in which you can find the cumin on the actual day you need it. I emptied and cleaned the fridge. I’m not sure exactly what had oozed down the back wall and become hidden behind the plastic cover for the interior lighting, but it’s possible it was on its third life form.

    I had “garage day.” The wood pile almost got the best of me, and what chaos in those large closets and cupboards. If anyone needs antifreeze, windshield washer fluid or WD-40, hit me up. You’d better bring a pickup, though. We have plenty to spare.

    The rest of the week was spent in the yard, mostly with a chainsaw in hand. I think I sawed off enough aggravating, overgrown buckthorn in the garden and along the property line to string from here to Fisher.

    If you haven’t guessed, yes, it’s possible that I worked harder on my week off than I do during a week in which I actually work. And it was almost as rewarding. Almost.