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Wednesday
Jan232013

Church Lady Road Trip

The husband teasingly refers to me as "church lady" (Google "Saturday Night Live" and "church lady" if you want more information), and this past weekend I was on a church lady road trip. Our conference of Mennonite churches from Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington had a meeting in Portland. I went as our church's delegate. 

I love road trips. This one was particularly fun because I combined it with some other activities. I left Thursday, late morning, and headed west to Spokane. The first stop on my trip was to visit a consultant we hired to help our church with an Appreciative Inquiry process. I almost hate to call him a consultant anymore, because he and his family have become great friends of our congregation, and when he found out I was passing through Spokane, he invited me to spend Thursday night with them. We had a wonderful visit. 

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I left Spokane Friday morning and made my west to Portland. I don't enjoy the drive to Portland as much as I enjoy the drive to Seattle—the scenery isn't as interesting and frankly, Oregon drivers make me want to scream—but I had a very interesting audiobook to keep me company (I might write more on that in the next post), and the miles pretty much flew by. I rolled in to Portland around 1 p.m. and got situated at the hotel. 

[The sun was shining brightly when I got to Portland. I have never driven into Portland when it hasn't been overcast and pouring rain, so this was an interesting change. The thermometer said 45 degrees. I was about to take my coat off because I was so warm when a couple of hotel workers ran past me. One of them said to the other, "Let's get back inside! It's freezing cold out here!"]

I was pleased to have made such good time getting to Portland, because I really wanted to go spend a few hours at Powell's City of Books. It's almost worth going to Portland specifically to visit Powell's. The hotel was located only about two blocks from the MAX line station (Portland's light rail), so after a quick confab with the desk clerk, and armed with bus and light rail directions, I walked over to the station to catch the next train. It was about a 30-minute ride to Powell's.

I always approach Powell's with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I am excited to be in a building filled with so many books and eager to discover all sorts of great treasures, but that is tinged with anxiety that I won't have time to see everything (and there is a lot to see) or that I might get lost. I have been there enough times to know which sections I want to hit first (canning, sustainable living, sci-fi). The husband had also sent me with a list of a couple of things he wanted, so I headed off to see what I could find. 

I scored an old Farm Journal canning book from the 50s with all sorts of amazing recipes in it. I picked up a used copy of James Howard Kunstler's Geography of Nowhere. I went looking for one of the books the husband wanted, but finally had to ask for help at one of the many information desks. The customer service people very helpfully look up whatever book you want, and when they determine that it's in stock, they write its location down on a yellow slip of paper: the room (all the rooms are given a color), the aisle number, the shelf name, and the specific subsection. 

After two hours of joyful wandering, I decided I should head back to the hotel, so I paid for my three books and headed out into the afternoon sun to catch the light rail train again. When they are in the downtown area, the light rail trains actually travel on tracks embedded in the streets. We had traveled only a short distance when all of a sudden the train came to a screeching halt, we heard a loud bang, and then all the lights went off in the train. I figured something was up when I looked out the window and saw people on the corner taking pictures with their iPhones. We were asked to get off the train, so I got off the train and walked down to the next block to wait at the next stop. 

It turns out that some not-so-bright driver had tried to play chicken with the train at the intersection and lost. Thankfully, no one was injured (they did call three ladder trucks and an ambulance, which I thought was a bit of overkill, but whatever.) We stood at the next stop for about 30 minutes while the people in charge checked out the train and made sure it was okay. I discovered, in those 30 minutes, exactly how many of my personal preparedness rules I had broken without thinking:

  • I had taken off my scarf (it was 45 degrees, remember?) and left it in the hotel room. That was fine when the sun was shining, but at 4:30 p.m. it was getting dusky and thus a bit colder. Dumb. 
  • I had also left my gloves in the hotel room. It was 45 degrees, remember? 
  • I had eaten the protein bar I usually keep in my purse and had forgotten to replace it. I could feel my blood sugar plummeting and had no easy access to food, although I probably could have gotten something at a food stand to tide me over.

Fortunately I am not a complete weenie: 

  • I did tell a friend where I was going and what time I planned to be back. 
  • I had alternate bus route instructions for getting back to the hotel and cash for a cab, if necessary.
  • I had my thyroid meds with me; anytime I travel out of Kalispell, they go with me and stay on my body in my purse at all times unless I am sleeping. I can't afford to find myself in a situation without them. 

So it really was a minor inconvenience, but it did remind me to think through my trips more carefully and not let my excitement about getting to Powell's overwhelm my common sense. 

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Saturday was the day of the church meeting. It was a very productive and enjoyable day. Our churches are so spread out geographically that these are people I only get to see once or twice a year. In fact, some of the Idaho churches attended via Skype, which worked very well. After the meeting was over, I got back in the car and headed up I-5 toward Seattle to spend some time with DD#1. 

One of the overriding themes of this trip was fog. It was everywhere. Some of it had burned off during the day, but by dinnertime we were all socked in again. I have yet to see the scenery on that drive from Portland to Seattle; the first time I did it, it was early in the morning and very dark, and this time it was daylight but everything was obscured. I rolled in to DD#1's campus just after dinner. I hate to say it, but I was asleep by 7 p.m. (Which is actually 8 p.m. Montana time, you know.) 

On Sunday, DD#1 and I did a little shopping for some things she needed, I watched football and knit, and then she and her boyfriend and I went to an Indian restaurant we like for dinner. I crashed in her dorm room again and then headed home on Monday morning. 

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All in all it was a great trip. I did find myself kind of mourning the joyful abandon with which I used to visit the big city. Now I feel like I am on constant alert. I don't like being around that many people. I think about all the things that could go wrong. What bothered me most, though, was the constant barrage of consumerism. I wasn't keeping track, but I probably passed—at a minimum—50 Wal-Marts on that trip. I guess I'm just not exposed to the endless, rampant consumerism of this country in my daily life, so it shocks me when I do see it. And I really have to laugh at the Portlandians who believe they are living a "sustainable life." Look, we have a long way to go here at the farm so I am a bit hesitatant to cast stones, but really—"sustainable living in a big city" is an oxymoron. I think you can approach degrees of sustainability, but life in a big city—especially one where the sun doesn't shine much—will always be a fairly large net negative in terms of energy. That's not to say that it isn't something to aspire to because it is; just don't place it on the same level as someone living off-grid and raising their own food.  

And I was very cognizant of the fact that I could take this trip largely because we're living in a cheap oil economy. I got to Portland and Seattle and back on about $135 worth of fuel (it helps that my car gets 40 mpg on the highway).  I had to ask myself at what point I would have to stop making that trip. When it costs me twice as much? Three times as much? Ten times as much? (The husband opined that if that trip cost me ten times as much in fuel costs to make, I probably wouldn't want to make it because it would mean this country had much bigger problems than just how much it costs in diesel to go from Kalispell to Seattle.) Should our church conference meet in person twice a year? Is that a good use of resources? Several of us commented that we wished we had thought to bring our own mugs with us to the meeting instead of using the paper cups provided. It's a process—a constant process—and there are so many places for improvement. 

I had lots to think about and lots of time to think about it. More of my musings will probably show up in the next couple of days. I'd really like to recap the audiobook for you (it was called The Town That Food Saved by Ben Hewitt) because it addresses a lot of these same issues. But this post is long enough. 

Tuesday
Jan152013

Paleo Immuno

I had an interesting weekend.  I woke up around 4 a.m. Saturday morning with my nose dripping, my eyes watering, sneezing almost continually. I gave up trying to go back to sleep and came downstairs to work, where I sneezed my way violently though reports for a couple of hours, then crawled out from under the pile of Kleenex and went to find some ibuprofen.  I spent a relatively miserable day, and went to bed fully expecting not to get any sleep.  I had already let the minister and song leader know I probably wouldn't be in church on Sunday.  I just hoped this cold wasn't going to linger.

I woke up Sunday morning and realized that I had gotten a completely restful night's sleep, and actually, I didn't feel all that bad.  By Sunday afternoon, I was pretty much back to normal.  I told the husband that if we could bottle whatever is in my immune system that could clear my body of a cold in less than 36 hours, we could become rich and retire.  If only.

It does make me wonder, though.  I have heard other people say that when they went Paleo, they either stopped getting sick altogether, or the courses of their illnesses were dramatically shortened.  Whatever it is, I'll take it.  We'll see if I escape the flu this season.  Some years I get it, some years I don't.  

I was done with my quota of reports by 6 a.m. yesterday morning so I spent a couple of hours in the morning sending resumes out to transcription companies.  It's a process; I have to find the company website, see if they have a "Careers" or "Employment" section, and then figure out what the guidelines are for applying.  Some companies will accept a resume via e-mail, some have an online application, and some require applicants to take an online test.  I sent out 15 or so resumes and then went on my merry way. 

This morning, I asked about job leads on an MT forum I belong to.  Someone made a suggestion regarding a company she used to work for, so I sent off an e-mail with my resume.  Within 15 minutes I got a response from the recruiter who asked me to take an online test.  Someone else suggested another company, so I took their online test, as well (that took me two hours; some of these tests are clearly designed to weed out the less-serious applicants).  And late this afternoon, I got an e-mail from yet another company (one I sent a resume to yesterday), asking me if they could call and talk to me tomorrow.  I said to the husband that I am going to stay positive about this and believe that I can find another great MT job where I will have plenty of work to keep me busy. 

I still have no idea what happened to the dictator who went AWOL on my account.  I suspect my account manager knows something but won't tell me.  I can't abide being lied to. 

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We got a letter this week from BC/BS of Montana, letting us know that the premium for our family health insurance policy will now cost us $250 more a month than last year.  I called our insurance agent, and unfortunately, we're already at the least-expensive policy BC/BS offers (witha $5000 deductible per person; now you know why I am a fanatic about my health).  I am no fan of Obamacare.  I do not believe that the way to make a system more efficient—and thus more cost-effective—is to layer ever more complexity on top of it.  My insurance agent filled me on the exchanges that are coming next year, and I think they are going to be a nightmare of immense proportions.  She says that the federal government still has not released any details on how they plan to make the exchanges work, probably because they have no idea how they are going to make them work.  In the meantime, I have to figure out how to squeeze an additional $250 a month out of an already tight budget. Wish me luck.  That's basically the equivalent of us buying a new car. 

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Seeds have started arriving, the first ones from Baker Creek.  It's exciting, but we have a few months to go yet before we can start any seeds out in the greenhouse.  The most we may do is some lettuce.  I am craving salads for lunch every day.  In the meantime, I can dream about how fabulous the garden will be again this year. 

Friday
Jan112013

Paging Dr. Picky

It has been another one of those weeks at work. It started earlier in the week when I realized something was going on with my workload. I am exclusive MT to two dictators on the oncology account. One is a physician who normally dictates 20-25 reports a day, every day, and the other is a physician's assistant (PA) who normally dictates 6-7 reports a day, every day. (I also am assigned to another doctor, but he only dictates 15 or so reports twice a week.) Starting right after the first of the year, I was getting only 3-4 reports a day from the physician and NONE from the PA. At first I chalked it up to a light caseload for the first week of the new year. But it persisted, and I decided something was amiss. If I don't have work, I don't get paid. I want to have work. 

I still don't know for sure what is going on. My account supervisor contacted the doctors' offices but she hasn't gotten a response yet. That's not all that unusual—it normally takes a few days, unless their reports weren't getting done and then they would be all over us. It's possible that the PA is out sick. We do know that all of her patients are being seen by another PA. However, it doesn't explain why the doctor who normally sees 20-25 patients a day all of a sudden is now only seeing a few. So we're waiting to hear back. 

As it turns out, there was work for me on the orthopedics account. Back in August, my account supervisor assigned me to that account as backup for one of the doctors we refer to affectionately as "Dr. Picky." EVERY account has a Dr. Picky. (The oncology account has a Dr. Picky, too. He's the third doctor I am assigned to for exclusive work.) The Dr. Pickys of the world want their reports to look a certain way, and they get very upset if things aren't done correctly. Some of them will ask that only certain MTs be allowed to do their reports. I was assigned the Dr. Ortho Picky because of my "attention to detail," according to my account supervisor, and I suspect that's why I got assigned to Dr. Oncology Picky, too (she told me I was one of the few MTs picked to do his reports).

[I have sort of mixed feelings about being assigned to all the Dr. Pickys, because I am not sure what that says about me. Probably, if I had become a physician, I would be a Dr. Picky, too, which is a thought I don't like to examine too closely.]

So the MT who is regularly assigned to the Dr. Ortho Picky had an emergency and had to be gone this week, leaving me to do all his reports. However, back in August when I first started doing Dr. Ortho Picky's reports, they were being transcribed by the computer and it was the MTs job to edit the already-transcribed reports. Most MTs will happily tell you how much they hate editing. I don't. I love it and I am good at it. 

Some time after the second buyout, the decision was made to take all the accounts that were being transcribed by the computer and edited by the MTs and return them to regular typing. I still don't understand that decision, for a variety of reasons that are too complicated to get into here. In any case, now all of Dr. Ortho Picky's reports have to be typed. I hadn't realized how hard it is to go from editing back to typing. And there were a couple of ortho docs in the queue whose reports I had never done. My output slowed to an absolute crawl. It took me five hours to do the same number of lines I normally do in two hours on my oncology account. I was having such a hard time that when the husband went out to muck out the very dirty chicken coop yesterday morning, I wanted nothing more than to shut down my computer and go out and help him. It's part of why being assigned an exclusive doctor is such a great idea; it gives you the opportunity to become familiar with your dictator and production speeds up as a result. When you suddenly have to learn a new doctor with new terminology, it's like starting all over as a newly-minted MT. 

[I love love love oncology. I don't mind orthopedics, but given the choice, I will pick oncology every time over any other specialty.]

So this week I am doing more orthopedics than oncology, and I am only doing it as a backup. When the regular ortho MT comes back, I'll be out of work again. I know my account supervisor is watching the situation and will try to find me work if it turns out that neither of my exclusives is dictating enough to keep me busy. It's just odd that both of them would slow down or stop at exactly the same time. 

I crave stability. 

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I went with my friend to see the medical oncologist on Tuesday. She had been told by her neurosurgeon that radiation for her meningioma would be the treatment of choice, but I think they wanted to cover all the bases, so they made an appointment for her to see the medical oncologist, too. 

We had an interesting visit. Kalispell used to only have one oncologist. When my friend had breast cancer 24 years ago and I had leukemia 19 years ago, we both saw the same lone oncologist, now retired (the husband built a retaining wall at his new house a couple of months ago, because Kalispell is a small world).  The oncology practice here in Kalispell now boasts five oncologists, with another one coming on board later this year. They are talking about moving into a new building because they have outgrown their current digs. 

While the nurse was checking my friend's vital signs, my friend and I compared notes about our Hickman catheters. They are semi-permanently installed catheters that make it easier to administer chemo and draw blood. My friend actually had her Hickman catheter installed by Dr. Hickman himself. I am sure the nurse was listening to this conversation and thinking we were nuts, but this is sometimes what happens when you put two cancer survivors in a room together. 

The oncologist eventually came into the examining room and introduced himself. He had a German-sounding last name and spoke with an accent. He was incredibly thorough. The first thing he told us was that my friend will not need chemo. The tumor is a slow-growing one and thus would be unlikely to be affected by any chemo. After delivering that piece of news, though, he proceeded to do a complete examination and a review of my friend's medical records. He ended up referring her to an endocrinologist because she has some thyroid issues and he thought they needed to be addressed. Along the way, we discovered that he is from Hungary, which led to a discussion about my last name and geneaology and a further discussion about chicken paprikas and other good Hungarian foods. (He spoke a few words to me in Hungarian, but my Hungarian is non-existent.) He did tell me, though, that even with all the additional oncologists in Kalispell, if I came down with leukemia tomorrow, they would hustle me out of here to a bigger facility because they still can't treat things like leukemia here. 

I thought it was noteworthy that this doctor's office still has all of my friend's medical records from her breast cancer treatment two decades ago. I am kicking around the idea of calling them and asking them for a copy of mine, which they probably also still have. They won't be as complete as the ones from the Cleveland Clinic (which probably take up a file about 3" thick), but I am sure they would be instructive. 

Wednesday
Jan092013

13 in 13

The 13 in 13 Challenge is the brainchild of Jack Spirko over at The Survival Podcast. His challenge is for everyone to learn 13 new skills in 2013, and the website gives you a way to track your progress. You start out by choosing the skills you want to master from a list (you can add other ones which are not currently on the list). Here are the ones I picked: 

  1. Building Community:  I am already sort of good at this conceptually, but I have specific ideas in mind for this year.
  2. Concealed Weapons Permit: I have been talking about this for two years now and just need to do it. It doesn't mean I am going to start carrying a firearm everywhere I go; it just means I trained for and got the permit. 
  3. Curing/Smoking Meats: I love me some bacon. The husband keeps asking me if he should hollow out a log and build me a smoker like the one in Little House in the Big Woods. That would work if we had hardwood trees around here. We might have to build something out of metal. 
  4. Dairy: This is a big category, but I picked it because there wasn't a choice for "cheesemaking" and that's what I want to do. But as long as we're in this category, there is room for acquiring a cow. 
  5. Distilling: I know how to do this in theory, but the last time I did it was in organic chemistry 25 years ago. Time to brush up on some techiniques. 
  6. Emergency Medicine: Always good to know. I have no desire to be an EMT like the husband, but there is no reason I can't take a basic first-aid/CPR class. 
  7. Herbal Remedies: This has long been an interest of mine. I figure there may come a point in time when I have to be the neighborhood pharmacist. 
  8. Making Salves and Balms: Ditto. 
  9. Root Cellaring: We have one. That's about all I know. 
  10. Soapmaking: Because it's no fun to be filthy all the time. 
  11. Animal Husbandry: I want to raise my own chicks. Oh, and we might get other animals, too. 
  12. Foraging: The husband and I already do some of this. We need to refine our skills. 
  13. Permaculture Design: Just because it interests me, and I have already had great success with the garden. 

 

Obviously, I picked some things that I already sort of know how to do (at least in theory) or have some interest in. The idea is not only to pick the skills you want to learn, but also to set a date by which you want to have learned them, so you are more accountable. I haven't gotten that far yet. We'll have to see what happens. 

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The husband's father is buying another piece of property from our neighbors. (He bought the one behind us a few years ago, which is where the garden is.) It adjoins our property back along the edge of the garden, so we will have a contiguous—if oddly-shaped—total of 13 or so acres.  The new property also borders the neighbors' meadow, which they are giving us the use of for one year. The new property has a garage with an apartment above it and a very nice barn. We are talking about the possibility of getting more livestock. (The husband said, "You can finally have sheep!" Oh yeah. I've only waited 25 years for my own sheep.) I am most excited about having property which has a creek running through it, albeit a seasonal one. 

There is a lot happening already in 2013. 

Tuesday
Jan082013

Costco People

The husband and I went to Costco the other night before going to dinner and a movie. My Costco trips are usually done solo because I travel faster that way. It's a nightmare to take two kids to Costco with me. They get sucked in by the all the displays of stuff they think we need, and I spend so much time deflecting that that I forget to get what's on my list. The husband hates shopping, so he tends to just follow me closely as I race through the store. 

We got a cart, flashed the membership card, walked in, and hit an immediate roadblock—the man in front of us stopped and left his cart in the middle of the aisle, blocking our path, while he wandered over to look at a display. Just as I maneuvered my cart to go around his cart, he finished looking at the display and walked back to his cart in front of me. I screeched to a halt (again) and waited for him to move. Arrrgggghhhhh. The whole store was like that. Parents shopped, oblivious to their kids running around screaming and yelling. Whole families (why does it take six people to make a Costco run?) stood in front of freezer cases and blocked access while they had a confab about what kind of ice cream to buy. The absolute worst were the groups of people socializing in the middle of aisles. I appreciate that Costco is a great place to run into your friends, but if you want to catch up on each others' lives, how about going to an establishment that's designed for socializing with your friends, like a bar? 

As we left, I asked my husband if he now understands why I need a glass of wine when I come home from town. 

I continue to be baffled by this "social autism" that seems to have become so rampant in my lifetime. People wander around in these little bubbles, apparently concerned only with themselves and what they need and want. 

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I walk this fine line between people I know who seem to "get" that things in our society are falling apart, and people who seem to believe that all we need to do is throw more money at the problem or get different/better people in government and everything will just return to normal—whatever "normal" is. The idea that government could fix some of these problems is particularly baffling to me considering that governement caused most of them. We've become a country of frogs in boiling water. If you put a frog in a pot of water and slowly raise the level to boiling, the frog will not jump out because it cannot comprehend what is happening. I also think a lot of people are simply in denial. On some level, they are aware that things are going south, but to allow themselves to contemplate exactly what that might mean causes them too much mental distress. In reponse, they retreat into "reality" TV (which is so far from reality as to be laughable), go shopping, do drugs, or engage in some other activity that allows them to forget how awful things could actually get. I thought John Michael Greer put it quite eloquently on his Archdruid Report blog when he said, 

...if the prospect of changing the way you live terrifies you, but the thought of facing the consequences of the way you live terrifies you just as much, daydreaming that some outside force will come along and change everything for you can be a convenient way to avoid having to think about the future you’re making for yourself.

The "outside force" he's referring to here is the discovery of some limitless supply of cheap energy that will allow us to continue to live in the way we've been living.

I do acknowledge that I could be completely off-base here. I—and all my other tinfoil-accessory-wearing friends—could be completely wrong about what's going to happen in the future. It's hard, sometimes, to stand there and insist that the emperor has no clothes when everyone around you is commenting on the stylish cut of the emperors' new coat. It makes you question whether you're the one missing something until—out of the corner of your eye—you catch sight of a black swan winging by.

[Or you go to Costco for a quick refresher on how stupidly your fellow human beings can behave, and then the current state of affairs begins to make perfect sense.]

Oh well. All I can do is all I can do. The husband and I will continue to live our lives the way we have arranged them, because that's the way we want to live.