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Monday
Nov262012

Trouble in the Henhouse

I wanted to take a picture of the roosters for you today, but the batteries in both digital cameras needed charging. I'll try again tomorrow. 

Junior Rooster is now bigger than Daddy, and I think the tables have been turned. Junior no longer turns tail and runs away, and Daddy is looking a bit bedraggled. I don't think he's winning all the contests anymore. I wonder how long this will last before it becomes a real problem. Stay tuned. 

The husband and I watched a PBS documentary the other night on Netflix called "The Natural History of the Chicken." It should have been titled, "Strange Things People Do With Chickens" because it wasn't really about the natural history of the chicken AT ALL. Oh well. It was entertaining nonetheless. One lady made the newspaper for giving CPR to one of her chickens. Yeah, that is never going to happen here. 

I also watched the documentary "American Harmony," which is about the International Barbershop Competition. Barbershop singing is very popular with members of our church, so I get to hear it a lot. The documentary was fascinating. 

It should be interesting to see what Netflix now recommends as the "Top Ten for Janet." Something involving singing chickens, no doubt. 

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Hunting season 2012 is now in the record books and we have no venison in the freezer. The husband was very philsophical about it, and suggested that we take the money we would have spent on processing a couple of deer and buy a side of pork, instead. I think that's a splendid idea. 

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The cantata seems to have been well-received by the choir, and we're all excited to start working on it. Of course, now I have managed to set the bar even higher for myself for next Christmas. 

I don't usually even try to schedule anything on Sundays besides church. During Advent, choir practice will chew up a couple of hours in the afternoon, and other Sundays I might have elder meetings or have to go play at the nursing home. The husband and I were talking this morning about our church's 100th anniversary celebration, which is going to happen in 2013. I mentioned that back in 1913, church was only held every other week and it was usually an all-day affair. He pointed out that some things have not changed in 100 years. 

In any case, the schedule now includes a daily hour of cantata practice for the pianist, who has 88 pages of music to learn. One of the songs is "Go Tell It On the Mountain" and the accompaniment is going to kick my butt for the next couple of weeks. 

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No news is good news at work, I suppose. Things are chugging along as they were before. Yay. 

Saturday
Nov242012

Still Older Than the Husband

Today is my 47th birthday. I will never ever complain about getting older, because I almost didn't see my 30th birthday. Every day since then has been a bonus. And I am still five months older than the husband, although I try not to pull rank on him too much. 

We had a nice, quiet Thanksgiving. I cooked a 14-pound Hutterite turkey, which tasted amazingly like the turkey I remember from my childhood. We also had cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes (ones we grew), green beans (also home-grown) with bacon, and cauliflower with browned butter and gluten-free cracker crumbs. I miss the cornbread stuffing, but because the husband and kid can eat as much of that as they want, I ate every last bit of the cauliflower all by myself and did not share. The green beans were amazing. We thanked DD#2 for doing all the work this summer to get them cleaned and trimmed. 

After cleaning up, DD#2 and I and one of my friend Susan's daughters went into town to see a movie. A movie on Thanksgiving afternoon is a tradition in my family, no doubt started by the mothers so they could have some peace and quiet. When we were little, I remember my father and uncles taking all of the grandchildren to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Superman. This year we chose Skyfall, the new James Bond movie, and it did not disappoint. We also ran into DD#1's boyfriend from high school and his brother and father who were there to see the movie, too. The dad is the athletic director at the high school, so DD#2—as a cheerleader—gets to see him a lot. Kalispell is a small town, have I mentioned that?

The husband stayed home to do battle with mice. In two days we caught three mice, two of which were in the root cellar snacking on pumpkins. The chickens were treated to some extra protein. I can put up with spiders and snakes and other kids of wildlife, but I draw the line at mice. I hate them. Ick. The husband is on it, with help from Lila and Rusty. 

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I have mixed feelings about Black Friday. When my mother comes for Thanksgiving, it is a lot of fun for her and the girls and me to head out and do some shopping and go out to lunch. We wait until a reasonable hour and then we simply try to enjoy being together. I am always a bit taken aback by the rampant consumerism. On the other hand, I know there will be some things on sale. I search for balance. 

I had work in the queue yesterday and DD#2 slept in, so we didn't get out the door until after 10 a.m. The first place we headed was the (one and only) big department store at the mall. They always have Doorbuster specials until 1 p.m., and one of those is always the Columbia fleece jackets. My girls wear their Columbia jackets out, that's how much use they get out of them. I got one for each of them and that was it. The place was mobbed, as I expected it to be. There are only a few places to shop in Kalispell. 

We then went down to JC Penney so I could check out the Liz Claiborne section and see if I could find an outfit to wear on Christmas Eve. I am kind of partial to Liz Claiiborne and have been for years. I can pull a size 8 anything off the rack and know it will fit me without having to try it on. For the past few weeks, I've had my eye on a turquoise Liz Claiborne skirt, and they had it in a size 8, so I bought it. On the way to the register, two separate women stopped me to comment on how pretty it was, and when I got to the register, the cashier oohed and ahhed over it, too. I am just happy to see brightly-colored clothing in the stores again after decades of muddy earth tones. 

DD#2 bought herself a pair of moccasins. That was it. By then it was noon and we decided to go get lunch. 

Shopping with DD#2 will always include a stop for coffee at some point. We're horrible enablers of each other's habit. We went to the bank so I could deposit a check, and popped in to the Starbucks next door for some refreshment. Starbucks' coffee is not as good as the coffee served by the local place downtown, but I wasn't going to drive all the way back there just for coffee. If you're ever in Kalispell, though, Colter Coffee is the place to go. 

We did a little bit more shopping and that was it. We were home by 3 p.m. We enjoyed the shopping, saw people we knew, had some coffee, and that was enough.

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I did not expect there to be much fallout from the news that the company I work for had been bought out again, but I was wrong. I had two e-mails from my oncology account supervisor yesterday afternoon. The oncology account is a big account, with over a dozen regular dictators and some who dictate on a less frequent basis. I know that there are (were) at least six MTs working that account full time. 

One doctor in particular is not very good about submitting his reports in a timely manner. In fact, he usually saves up two weeks' worth of dictation and dumps 50-75 LONG reports into the queue at one time, rather than submitting them every day like my regular doctors do. It makes it very difficult for us, because we don't know when he's going to dump reports, and if his come in on a day when we're all busy with our regular reponsibilities, everyone has to scramble to keep up. This has been an ongoing issue ever since we went to exclusives. The first e-mail from my supervisor was to alert us of some changes in the pool set-up. She's trying to arrange it so we have more consistent and steady work, which I greatly appreciate. It's hard to plan my life when I don't know if any particular day is going to have abnormally heavy workload. 

[The irritating thing is that he seems to dictate every couple of days, based on the dictation date timestamp on the file, but he just doesn't bother to load the reports onto the server until he has a whole bunch of them. On November 21, I was doing reports for him that he had dictated on November 8. Really? You cut people open and sew them back together and you can't load your reports as soon as you dictate them?]

The second e-mail was to me, personally, to let me know that two MTs are leaving the oncology account. One is going to a different company (no surprise there) and one is going back to school. I inherited the doctor that those two MTs shared and will now be sharing his reports with another MT. He's a very "special" doctor because he wants his reports done within four hours. He also sounds like he is making a pornographic phone call when he dictates. Beyond that, he's not bad and I don't mind doing his reports, but we'll have to see how the four-hour TAT thing works out. I had to giggle a bit because my supervisor's note said, "We are losing two of this doctor's experts and you are amongst the few picked to handle him." I think that's a compliment. 

I am kind of curious to know how many other people are jumping ship because of this new merger. I have decided to stay put for the moment, only because I really really really love this oncology account and—at the moment—the devil I sort of know is better than the devil I don't. And I am always happy for more work. The husband has taken to calling this my "schizophrenic job," because it seems like every day brings some new crisis. 

The holiday season is not a good time to be looking for another job, anyway. I'll sit tight until I can't take it anymore. 

Tuesday
Nov202012

Here We Go Yet Again

I was hard at work this morning when I heard that telltale ding signifying a new e-mail message. I should have known something was up when I saw the subject line: "GREAT NEWS!" 

It turns out that the company which bought out the company I had been working for has now been bought out by the largest MT company in the United States. That's two acquisitions in just three short months. Of course, they give us about an hour's notice for a conference call, in which they told us absolutely nothing other than, "You all are the best MTs! Nothing will change! We're so excited about this merger! This is a great time to be an MT! This is a great company to work for!"

Blah blah blah blah. I heard all the same stuff last time and it all turned out not to be true.

I found it so interesting that the personnel manager in charge of the call begged us all not to get our information about this merger from the Internet. There is one MT site in particular that pulls no punches when it comes to talking about the negatives in this industry and certain companies in particular. However, that MT site had far better and more accurate information about the last merger than we received from management. I am absolutely going to monitor the posts there. 

Part of me could really care less at this point. I just want to work. I am concerned, though, because I am not sure this new company will allow me to continue to work as an independent contractor. I do not want to become an employee of any company and have to switch to a set shift. Heck, I just got used to the changes that came with the last merger. 

I am going to go practice the piano for a while. It's too early for wine. 

Sunday
Nov182012

Advent is Not Christmas

This is a bit early, but as a church musician I am always working a few weeks ahead. My apologies for jumping the holiday gun. 

We had our first choir practice yesterday and it was a lot of fun. I passed out the piece I had chosen for the first Sunday in Advent and we listened to a recording of it (it's lovely to have Wi-Fi in the sanctuary!). It is not an easy piece. Most challenging is the fact that the piano accompaniment sort of "floats" beneath the choir, so everyone has to have his or her part down well. There will be no relying on the piano to get anyone back on track. I was pleased at how good the choir sounded after one practice. It is a real pleasure to give our choir a challenging piece of music and have them attack it with such enthusiasm. 

I think we also have the cantata under control. I finally ordered music today. The big issue was covering parts, but we have enough people who are flexible enough in their ranges and in their music-reading ability to have a strong lead in each section. I do wish we had a few more tenors. We'll manage, though. 

And now the Nerdy Church Muscian is going to leap up onto her soapbox: Advent is not Christmas. Advent is its own church season, which is a time of waiting. There is church music which is specific to Advent and speaks to this time of anticipation. "Christmas" doesn't actually begin until December 25, and then lasts for 12 days (hence "The Twelve Days of Christmas" carol). Unfortunately, our consumer culture has morphed "Christmas" into an ever-longer period of time beginning at least right after Halloween (unless you are Nordstrom, which does one holiday at a time), so Advent has kind of been forgotten in the whole rush-to-Christmas race of activity. I like Advent. I like what it represents and I love Advent music. 

I have been rather a stickler about the whole Advent vs. Christmas thing as the church pianist, although I suspect that I may be the only one who either notices or cares. I have a whole binder full of music labelled "Advent," which is all I play up until Christmas Eve, and then for the two Sundays after Christmas, I play "Christmas" songs. Interestingly, though, we rarely sing "Christmas" songs in church unless it's Christmas Eve. 

We had a conversation about this a few weeks ago in our worship team meeting. I do recognize that for some people, it's very important to celebrate the entire "season" of Christmas from Thanksgiving until New Year's Day, so this year I am relaxing my standards a bit. I may still play just Advent music for the first two Sundays, but then I may break out the more traditional Christmas carol-type sacred music (no, I will not be playing "Jingle Bells" in church, in case you're wondering). And we're going to do more exploring of the Christmas music section of our hymnal. 

I've had my Advent/Christmas music out for a couple of weeks now, getting it all polished up. I need to devote all of my practicing time in the coming weeks to learning the cantata music, so I won't have time to work on prelude music. Even though it's a lot of work, I like the fact that having to learn the cantata music gives me a reason to sit down at the piano and practice every day. I do try to play for at least a few minutes a day, but I don't always practice with the intensity that will be required to learn a whole cantata's worth of music. 

That's one thing that I don't think non-musicians understand very well: While I am a crack sight-reader and can also fake when I need to, there is a difference between playing a piece of music and learning a piece of music. Most people think it's easy for pianists to sit down and play whatever is in front of them with no preparation. It's true; some musicians do that very well. I have had to sight-read hymns to accompany a congregation and I can muddle my way through. For a big piece like a cantata, though, it's important for the accompanist to be familiar enough with the music—to be able to play it without constantly thinking about the notes—so that a good portion of his or her attention can always be on the director. This requires a level of familiarity with the music that—for me, at least—requires that I take it apart piece by piece and put it back together. I long for my adolescent days when I was able to memorize music almost without thinking about it. I could "see" the piece of music in my mind's eye and simply play from it. I can't do that anymore, sadly. And this cantata is 80 pages long. That would be a lot to keep in my head. I have to content myself with going over and over the music until it's no longer a surprise to see the notes that they appear on the page. I am not doing a good job of explaining it, but my musician friends will know what I mean. 

Saturday
Nov172012

Mending

One of the things I did on Wednesday after (finally) mopping the floor was to tackle the pile of mending next to the sewing machine. I had been putting things there that needed fixing, and the pile was threatening to fall over. 

I sewed the binding back on to a potholder. I added a buckle to the neck straps of the apron I made a few weeks ago because I don't like things tied behind my neck. I hemmed some pants. DD#2 had purchased a very pretty sweater, but the seams were coming apart all over it, so I sewed it back together. She had also bought a pair of knitted mitts, and the mitts had been "finished" at the bind-off edge by cutting a 3/4" length of yarn. That was it. The yarn was not secured, the yarn ends were not darned in at all, and with only 3/4" of an inch of yarn left, there was no way I could darn the ends in far enough that they couldn't come out. I zigzagged over the ends to secure them (my sewing machine has a wonderful stretchy zigzag stitch that is perfect for knits). 

[Let's just overlook the fact that the child of someone who knits is buying knitted items at the store. Shoemaker's kids and all that.]

Both the sweater and the mitts had been purchased by DD#2 with her own money at Forever 21 (I don't think I was with her at the time). I think she learned something important, as she has made several comments since about their quality of goods. She is becoming much more discriminating about how she spends her money. We do a lot of touching and examining and turning clothing inside out when we shop. I try to point out things that will fall apart in the first washing because of poor construction, and there is a lot of poor construction out there, especially at stores like Forever 21. A store whose sale racks look like my mother's rag bins are not going to be selling quality items.

I have often said to the husband that he should be a field tester for products, because he will find a way to wear out, break, or otherwise destroy just about everything he touches. He must have burned out three or four of my hair dryers before he finally bought himself a heat gun. A pair of my good Fiskars once got used to cut up Formica. (At least now he has learned to ask if he wants to use something of mine in an unorthodox manner.) He has given up wearing jeans to work, because all the bending and crouching resulted in a lot of blown-out crotches. Zippers break, buttons fall off, seams come flying apart; some of this stuff is within my capacity to fix and some of it isn't. I am certainly not going to risk breaking my sewing machine trying to sew heavy fabrics it wasn't intended to handle. I am waiting for the washing machine to die one of these days with a dramatic choking gasp because it's tired of washing loads of concrete-caked heavy canvas Carhartts. Living with him is a study in "how far can we push stuff to do what it wasn't intended to do?" 

But I will fix the things I can. And it's good to see the kid wearing her sweater to school instead of tossing it in the garbage can.