Friday
Jul282017

More Sadness

I am supposed to play for the memorial service tomorrow for my friend's daughter, Erin, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Portland a few weeks ago. This morning, I came down to read my e-mail and found a note from our pastor saying that Bob, who was Erin's grandfather and the husband of my piano mentor, Catherine, died last night. The family was all gathered here for Erin's service and had gone out to eat when he had a heart attack and passed away. 

I can't even anymore. I had stopped over to see Bob last week and we sat out on his front porch and visited and watched people walk by. We each had a Klondike Bar (he loved ice cream and kept a supply of ice cream bars in his freezer.) We talked about how he was going to move to Portland right after the memorial service to live with his oldest son, Rusty. We talked about Catherine, and Cathy, and Erin. Bob was a man of great faith and I know that faith has been rewarded, but it still makes me sad. It is going to be hard to play tomorrow. Bob always used to tell me how much he loved to hear the piano in church. 

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This is what I was going to post this morning, about the bounteous zucchini harvest...

Once we get what we need into storage for the winter, I am quite happy to share the bounty of the garden with our neighbors. I love to see how the ripples travel back and forth throughout the neighborhood. Earlier in the week, our neighbor Elysian came over to get a couple of zucchinis. She has a three year-old son and she also is running a summer camp/daycare and has a nine-year-old young man in her care. She wanted to teach the two of them how to make zucchini bread. Thursday night, I got a text from my neighbor Anna, asking me if I had left zucchini bread at her house. I told her it wasn't me. Apparently Elysian and the boys had been dropping off loaves of zucchini bread at various houses around the neighborhood. 

We have another neighbor named Smokey. He moved up here from California about eight years ago when his granddaughter was in high school and has since become a fixture in the neighborhood. It's like he has been here forever. He shows up once a week or so and buys about five dozen eggs. Some he takes to his sister, some he eats, and some he takes down to another neighbor of ours, Joanne. In exchange for the eggs, Joanne keeps him well-supplied with zucchini bread throughout the year (she makes it and freezes it like I do). The last time he was here, Smokey told me that he was worried about his zucchini bread supply because Joanne and John (her husband) had a crop failure and none of their zucchini plants survived. I told him to let her know that if she was in need, I would give her some. She came over last night and picked them up. Smokey will have zucchini bread this winter. 

We are not in danger of running out. I've done 24 loaves of zucchini bread already so I am almost done with this year's supply. I picked about eight yesterday and there will be at least that many again on Sunday. We'll be eating stuffed zucchini again this weekend. 

The husband will be eating watermelons way ahead of schedule this year. Normally they aren't ready until late August, but he has a few that are getting close. They are personal watermelon sized:

He usually picks one when he goes to let the pigs out, then brings it in and has it for breakfast. 

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Ali brought the little guy over Thursday night. She ducked out to make one last pass through the raspberries and he and I settled down on the couch to watch truck videos. He had had a long day and was starting to glaze over, but I found a YouTube channel called Mighty Machines and he perked right up. I picked one about big tow trucks, the kind that will tow incapacitated tractor-trailers and other big rigs. This video was about rescuing an overturned tanker truck. We watched as the tow truck operators ran straps and cables around the tanker and lifted it up using giant inflatable air bags. I told the husband later than I learn so much watching these videos. Who knew? 

Thursday
Jul272017

Creativity in the Kitchen

I don't measure ingredients when I cook. For that matter, I don't usually use a recipe when I cook, either, although I love to read cookbooks. Go figure. I suppose that some of that comes from 30 years of having to cook enough food for an army (read: the husband) and such familiarity with what I am doing that I don't need to resort to any metric beyond what tastes good to me. Some of it, too, is a bit of lingering rebellion against my analytical chemistry class (which was also 30 years ago and must have caused some deep-seated trauma). Measuring when I cook reminds me too much of working for a grade. 

I don't generally plan meals, either. I tried that method—I really did—but it seemed that every time I sat down and did a week's worth of menu planning, some monkey wrench got tossed in the works and the whole plan went to hell in a handbasket. I tend to work on a day-to-day schedule. 

When we put in a big garden, I also got into the habit of using what happened to be available. I actually enjoy that process, even though it means that some weeks, we eat stuffed zucchini two or three nights in a row. Yesterday afternoon, I looked in the fridge and saw the gallon zip bag of cherry tomatoes that Anna had brought over a few days ago. Then I looked at the five-gallon bucket I had just brought back from the garden, full of the last picking of peas (I hope), several more zucchini, and a whole bunch of cucumbers. Tomatoes and cukes makes me think of gazpacho, so I got out the food processor and got to work. Half an hour later, I had this:

It was pretty tasty and it hadn't even sat long enough for the flavors to marry. It'll be delicious today. I think I will also take some over to Ali. She has her hands full at the moment as fire information officer for DNRC and she doesn't need to be worrying about what to pack for lunch. 

Speaking of fires, Flathead County went to stage II fire restrictions yesterday. They didn't even bother with stage I. From the Daily Interlake:

The restrictions ban the use of fires or campfires. Smoking outdoors is prohibited, except at developed recreation sites or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is cleared of all flammable material. The use of fireworks also is prohibited under Stage II restrictions.

Operating motorized vehicles off designated roads and trails is prohibited except for people engaged in a business or occupation where off-road travel is required. Off-road operators are required to have fire extinguishers and fire tools with them.

The operation of internal combustion engines is restricted from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m., along with welding, acetylene or other torches with an open flame, and the use of explosives during those hours.

Barbecue grills may be used on private property in areas that are barren or closely mowed and cleared of all surrounding flammable materials.

The next step would be to close state and federal lands to use. I don't think that has ever been done. It would have a tremendous negative economic impact in this area that is so dependent on tourism in Glacier Park (although so would a wildfire).

This part of the Daily Interlake article makes me nuts:

Flathead County Fire Manager Lincoln Chute said 120 fire calls in the county have been logged since July 1, with 22 logs in the last four days — four on Saturday, eight on Sunday, seven on Monday and three on Tuesday. Most were human caused, he told the commissioners.

I am not keen on the idea of losing my home to someone's stupidity, but unfortunately, I have to worry more about fires caused by human beings than ones caused by lightning strikes. 

The husband has fire training tonight, as he does every Thursday night. I am desperately hoping for even a few minutes of sewing time. I walk by the cutting table every morning and wish that I had some time to work on some projects. 

Tuesday
Jul252017

Playing with Trucks

I think I have mentioned before that my friend Ali's little guy really loves trucks. LOVES THEM. Of course, I do what any good auntie would do to nurture this obsession. After all, Auntie Janet drove a one-ton Dodge MegaCab (six-speed manual, no less) for several years. She has her own little obsession with big rigs. I had some special toys that I thought the little guy would love, but it took me a bit of hunting to figure out where I had stowed them. I finally found them the other night:

My father was a NASA engineer, but in his spare time, he was a cabinetmaker and made the most beautiful pieces of furniture. I have a grandmother clock, a map chest (it holds my knitting needle collection), and a gorgeous cedar chest of quartersawn oak, all made by him. I know I drove him nuts with my insistence that anything he made for me be from oak. He and my mother, both, were partial to the darker woods like walnut and cherry, but as far as I was concerned, oak was it. When he asked me what wood I wanted for my cedar chest, I said, "Oak," and he said, "Are you sure?" As if. 

[My house is trimmed out in oak. My spinning wheel is oak. My baby grand is mahogany, but only because oak baby grands are scarer than hens' teeth and my baby grand is kind of a medium mahogany, not a really dark mahogany. It looks good in my living room.]

My father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 1991. By the time DD#1 was born the following year, he really didn't have the energy to make beautiful furniture any more, but he still liked to putter around in his workshop. He made this set of trucks. There is a preponderance of girls in my family, but that never stopped him from hoping for some boys. (My girls must have played with these, because when I opened up the back of that tractor-trailer, on the left in the picture, there were three little Bratz dolls stuck inside.) 

I brought these out last night for the little guy to play with. He was thrilled. We sat on the floor and ran them around and talked about what they were doing. They were "hauling logs to Kalispell" and "grading the road." Even the husband got down on the floor and joined us. We will have a good time playing with these when the little guy comes over. 

(And then we watched truck videos on YouTube. Sometimes it is hard for me to tell which boy is having more fun.)

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We are enjoying the bounty of wedding season. Anna, our neighbor who owns the catering business, is smack in the middle of her busiest time and she has been most generous with the leftovers. Yesterday, she brought me an entire container of some yummy Thai shrimp. Today, she showed up with a big container of herbed mushrooms. She told me they were best heated up and served with crostini or eggs or such, but I got out a fork and just ate them cold out of the container. I love mushrooms. Sometimes she sends over red velvet cupcakes and then I have to break my "no wheat" rule and eat one. 

I have never been one to have a lot of girlfriends—as in women friends that I hang out with—but Anna and I like to get together every couple of weeks for a glass of wine and some appetizers and visiting. It helps that she lives right across the street. If I had to drive somewhere to meet up with someone, it would never happen because I am such a homebody. Her husband is a contractor, too, so there is a lot of commiserating. We are going to get together tomorrow night so she can regale me with tales of the latest catering event. 

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It is interesting to me that almost everyone I know is done with summer. Those of us who live in Montana apparently prefer cooler weather. What a surprise. I am keeping one eye on the weather and an ear on the scanner. There have been several grass fires in the past couple of days and they—"they" being local fire departments, DNRC, and the Flathead Office of Emergency Management—are jumping on each new fire start with all the resources they can muster. No one wants these things to get out of control.

It hasn't been this bad for a number of years. The husband and I need to do a walk around of the property so I can refresh my memory of what needs to be done and in what order if it looks like a fire is threatening us. I might be here by myself for at least a while. I also need to get my bug-out bag out of the car and check it over. 

I'll be so happy when October gets here. 

Sunday
Jul232017

Volunteer Spuds

I went out to the garden yesterday morning to get more zucchini but I got distracted by all the volunteer potato plants. They were interspersed among the cabbage, beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Last fall, it got cold and rainy sooner than we expected and the husband had to hurry to get all of the potatoes dug up and put in the root cellar. A few of them got left out there. Because we move our crops around every year to confound the bugs, other stuff is growing in the spot where the potatoes were last year. We don't usually pull up volunteer plants—they are bonus produce—so we left them where they were.

The tops have started to die back, however, and they were getting in the way of stuff that we want for this year. I decided it was time to dig them up, even if the potatoes were small. I ended up with these: 

That's probably 30 pounds of potatoes. The yellow ones are Yukon Golds. The red ones are Butter Reds (those are my Costco potatoes that I love so much that I bought a bag and let them sprout and then we planted them and have been planting them ever since). The purple ones are Purple Vikings. We also plant Classic Russets every year, which are my second favorite after the Butter Reds, but I haven't come across any of those yet. I will steam the golf ball-sized ones for potato salad this week, maybe with some fresh dill? Yum. 

I didn't dig up all of the volunteer spuds. There are a few more plants scattered here and there around the garden, as well as these:

Potatoes in the compost bin.

I also picked the first of the cucumbers. The variety is Muncher and we have grown them for years. If you pick them when they are still tiny, they make great pickles. They can also be eaten without peeling because the skins are not bitter. I am all for any kind of produce that doesn't require extra work. The lemon cucumbers aren't quite ready yet. I found a couple of baby watermelons, and some of the tomatoes are already setting fruit. I got another half dozen pint bags of peas blanched and put into the freezer yesterday, too. I might get to make one more pass through the peas but I think I have what I need for this winter. Next up will be beans. We haven't had good beans for a couple of years. It looks like this year, we might be inundated. We planted both pole beans and bush beans. The pole beans appear to be doing better than the bush beans. We'll have to see which ones do produce more. Last time, I think we only planted bush beans. 

I did go back and pick more zucchini after I dug up the potatoes. We had stuffed zucchini last night which was awesome and I am planning a big zucchini bread-baking marathon for today.

I think it bears repeating that almost every variety of everything we grow in our garden is an heirloom—with the exception, perhaps, of some of the perennials which might be more modern hybrids. And we don't use any kind of chemical fertilizer or chemical pesticides. I am continually amazed at how well everything does and how much produce we get. Even with all the grasshoppers out there (snakes, where are you?), the lettuce, collards, and swiss chard show remarkably little damage. I would much rather work with Mother Nature than against her, and clearly we are doing something right. 

Saturday
Jul222017

Do Your Best Work, Please

It just hasn't been a very exciting couple of days here on the farm. I woke up around 2 a.m. Thursday morning with my sinuses just liquefying and I was pretty sure I was coming down with a cold. I don't have time for that. I dosed myself several times during the day with olive leaf extract and ibuprofen and by Friday morning, whatever I thought I was coming down with was gone. You can call it hocus-pocus, but it works, and it has worked before (I have used it on the husband, too). Even if it doesn't knock the virus out completely, the olive leaf extract definitely shortens the duration and severity of a cold. I buy the Barlean's liquid form and put about a teaspoon in a glass of water. It tastes rather like iced tea.

There was work in the queue Thursday morning, so I ended up working after all. I think everyone else took the day off. I have to have a really good reason to give up a day's pay and mopping my floor wasn't it. It's a different story if there is no work available.

Things at work have been kind of frustrating. We are now on our fifth supervisor in something like 18 months. I don't know what the problem is. The woman who was our supervisor when I started that job in February 2013 was just phenomenal—she was smart, responsive, and kept everything flowing smoothly. Unfortunately for us, she got promoted. She is now the director of operations and while she is doing a bang-up job in that position, too, I miss having her as my direct supervisor. 

Last week, one of the doctors was having trouble with his recorder. None of the voice files he submitted would load without an error message. That happened for three days in a row, and we had to kept sending them back to be fixed. He is also the worst dictator of the whole group. I just want to cry when I see a queue full of voice files from him. He mumbles. He mumbles and he rattles drawers and pushes paper around and just generally makes his dictations impossible to understand. I have had weeks where I had to send the majority of his reports to QA because there were parts I couldn't make out. When that happens, I think they say something to him because he will straighten up and speak clearly for a while, but eventually, he relapses into mumbling again. 

There seems to be an unspoken rule that transcriptionists are not allowed to give direct feedback to the doctors. I get that they don't want the transciptionists hassling the doctors, but really, we all have (or should have) the same goal, which is to create the best possible documentation of a patient's care. When I first became a transcriptionist, the company I worked for had a practice of allowing the transcriptionists to send Valentines to the doctors every February. We were encouraged to make them creative, with poetry and such, but even a simple "Thank you for your clear dictations" was enough. It was a way to let the great doctors know they were making our jobs easier and if you were a doctor who didn't get a Valentine from your transcriptionists—well, that was a message in itself. 

This week, I had a whole bunch of reports from the gynecologic oncologists. They all want the contact info for the patient's referring physicians and other subspecialists included in the body of the report. That requires me to go to an Excel spreadsheet to cut and paste all of the contact info into the report. Unfortunately, the clinic does not do a good job of keeping that spreadsheet updated. This week, I sent a whole bunch of reports to QA for no reason other than there was no contact info for the referrings and subspecialists (and some of these patients have five or six different doctors). When QA gets tired of hunting down that information, perhaps they will tell the clinic. 

I had hospital list yesterday. What happens on hospital list days—or is supposed to happen—is that the clinic sends my supervisor a list of all the patients who will be in the hospital over the weekend, sorted by hospital and room number. My supervisor then forwards that list to me so I can cross-reference the patient and room number with the dictation from the doctor. Normally, I have that list by the time I start working. There are a few doctors who dictate their weekend rounding lists very early on Friday morning. Yesterday, I sent my supervisor an e-mail at 9 a.m. and asked her if she had recieved the list from the clinic yet. She said she hadn't. I had dictations sitting in my queue waiting for me. 

By 11 a.m., I still hadn't received anything. (This is the third or fourth time this has happened, by the way.) I finally e-mailed my former supervisor—now the director of operations—and she said she would call the clinic and find out what was going on. Around 11:30 a.m., she sent me an e-mail and said that my supervisor would be sending me the list. Twenty minutes later, still no list, so I called my supervisor and left her a voice message saying I still hadn't received it. Finally, at 12:15 p.m., I got the list and started working on the voice files. (I can work on regular stuff in the queue in the meantime.) 

To top it off, I then got an e-mail from the clinic asking why they hadn't received any hospital list transcriptions from me yet. Arrggghh. I don't know where in the chain of command things are falling apart, but it's making my job a lot more difficult than it has to be. I am not getting rich doing this, either. 

As transcription jobs go, I have a pretty good one. I can work as an independent contractor and set my own hours (except for hospital list Fridays) and I appreciate the flexibility. I just cannot stand incompetence in any form and I cannot do my best work when I am relying on people who won't do theirs. 

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The echinaceas are blooming:

 

I finally saw a garter snake the other evening; it was parked in front of the door to the chicken coop and I almost stepped on it. I should have just picked it up and taken it over to the other garden but it started to slither out to the yard and I had to keep Rusty away from it. Rusty will eat snakes. (I know, I have no idea why, either.) I'll be out in the big garden today so maybe I'll see some out there. 

The dogs cornered a chipmunk under a pallet this morning and that was good for about 40 minutes of trying to get keep them corralled long enough for the chipmunk to escape. No one tells you when you have a farm that it's like having a couple dozen toddlers running around wreaking havoc. And those Buff Orpington chickens—they are like a little flock of velociraptors. When I go in to collect eggs, three or four of them will stalk me and try to peck at me. There is one in particular that stands there defiantly and stares at me. She and I are going to have to have a serious discussion soon. These chickens certainly aren't behaving like the sweet docile breed they are supposed to be.