Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wow, what a cool house!!

Friends are looking at an old house for sale in New Albin. I'm not going to link or post pictures or anything, as I am hoping that this undiscovered gem remains undiscovered long enough for them to put in their offer. Frankly, a few months ago, for reasons I'm not going to post here, this house was much less gem-like. (It's been on the market for a good while, and the price was just reduced.) It has a certain stigma attached to it. Lots of rather messy family history. But my friends are able to see past all that, and see it for what it is: A nice old house with good bones and tons of potential, with a lovely big lot that could provide tons of veggies from the garden, plus tons of enjoyment.

I sneaked in to have a look, too, and while it's not my decision, I was thinking, "This is THE house!!" I think houses want to rise above the sad things that happen in them. This house gave off very good vibes this morning. It was practically reaching out for these people. I could almost hear it talking, whispering, begging them to give it a chance to be their home. (Yes, I know, I'm ridiculous.)

These people have restored old houses before and they know what they are getting themselves into if they do this.

This is very exciting!

Edited to add: Oh, and it has a PINK WALL OVEN. How cute is that?? I can so see it with the kitchen rebuilt around the stove and oven. Turquoise and pink. Yessss!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Let's settle this once and for all.

Air traffic controller's testimony

I appreciated hearing this man's side of the tale of US Airways Flight 1549's Hudson River water landing. Poor guy, he had no idea he had helped save all those people till quite a bit later.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Highlights of All State Speech

I'm so zonked after this weekend that all I can manage is a bullet list.
  • The best/cheapest place to stay within reach of the Iowa State campus is the Quality Inn and Suites of Ames. For $49 plus tax, we got a non-smoking double queen room. And it included breakfast. Yes, I'm serious.
  • The best/cheapest place to have lunch during All-State is La Fuente. Little Mexican hole in the wall, neat hand painted murals on the tabletops (are they murals if they are horizontal? maybe not), tons of delicious food. Four of us ate for $24. It was amazing. We got there just as it opened and by the time we were done with a leisurely lunch the place was packed. Only caveat would be possible sanitation issues; there was no soap in the ladies' room and that makes me concerned about how the staff members wash their hands. Best not to think about it too much.
  • Once again, we were amazed by the talent and imagination of Iowa's nerdy drama geeks. What a wonderful day. An eight-dollar arm band gets you in to unlimited acting, musical theater, improv, mime, radio and TV newscasting, reader's theater and choral reading. Just awesome good fun.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Unfortunately, Maria

This is another variation of those Google-your-name memes. In this one, you put "unfortunately, yourname" into Google and post the top 10 results. Here are mine (minus the other names that got added to many of the Marias):
  • Unfortunately Maria suffered a 3 set loss in the US Open 1st round... [To my surprise, the top 2 searches both related to professional tennis players, only not the same professional tennis player.]
  • Unfortunately, Maria had seen in the New Year by drinking champagne and staying up very late at the fashionable Rome nightclub, Circolo degli Sacchi... [But of course.]
  • Unfortunately, Maria had gone to Antigua to purchase cloth to sell, so we were not able to speak with her... [How exotic!]
  • Unfortunately, Maria did not have the time to interpret all the works specifically composed for her.... [Oh yes, I have that problem too.]
  • Unfortunately, Maria lives with her grandmother, mother, sister and nephew, all of whom depend on her for income. [Not to mention the dog, cats, chickens, fish and cockatiel.]
  • Unfortunately Maria is most likely in the early stages of menopause, as i was greeted with the bedside manner of a lump of feces... [For the record, yes, I'm menopausal, but I have NEVER greeted anyone with the bedside manner of a lump of feces.]
  • Unfortunately Maria does nothing for me. [Okay, now that hurt!]
  • Unfortunately, Maria frequently used a lead-based make-up and consumed excessive amounts of arsenic, which was then used to keep one’s skin clear. [What can I say? I'm a slave to fashion.]

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I need a new blog!

Lately, in case you have not noticed, it has become trendy to be frugal. Living within one's means, or at least desiring to do so, is now chic. It's no longer cool to throw money around; it implies that one does not care about the suffering of one's neighbors and fellow countrymen. (Like about 10 years ago it suddenly became trendy to pretend to care about the environment.) So all kinds of blogs and websites are suddenly springing up around frugality, simplifying, living well under reduced circumstances, becoming debt free, repurposing, etc. I like to think I have been on this bandwagon since long before it was a bandwagon. I have long been a subscriber to Cheapskate Monthly and am even in one of Mary Hunt's books.

But I have put aside my snit over these johnny-come-latelies and am just trying to glean what goodness I can from the sudden wealth of words out there on the subject.

Many of these sources of words center around food. Eating well on a budget. Eating healthily on a budget. Eating well on food stamps. Gardening on the cheap. That sort of thing. And while I enjoy reading these and pick up good ideas, one thing that I notice is that they all seem to be aimed at an urban readership.

Take Poor Girl Eats Well, for example. Now I really like this blog. She does very interesting things with simple ingredients. Her goal is to give examples of meals that can be made for $8-$10 each, for a family of 4. This is a great idea, and I do find some goodies here. However, she is also an excellent example of my complaint. Her recipes count on two things: That you live near to a) a farmer's market that is in operation year round, and b) a Trader Joe's.

First of all, we don't live near ANYTHING. We are in the back of beyond. We drive at least half an hour to get to just about anywhere one can procure food.

Secondly, we do have a little farmer's market here in the New Albin town square, but at this time of year the farmers are all sensibly hunkered down inside nice warm farmhouses, not setting up veggie stands. The only thing they would have to sell would be wrinkly last-year's root vegetables, anyway. Our markets don't really get going until the middle of July, at least. And even then, they are, like, 5 people, max, each with a few examples of whatever is in season at the moment, which is exactly the same as everybody else at the market has. So one week, it's tomatoes and green beans, and the next week it's tomatoes and zucchini, and the next week it's zucchini and zucchini, and the next week it's tomatoes, zucchini, green beans and zucchini. And tomatoes.

And thirdly, while I would love to pop over to TJ's any old time, the nearest one I know of is in Woodbury, Minnesota. It's a nice one, I've been there, but it's about 3 hours' drive away. And up until a few years ago, most of the United States would say "Trader who?" when we mentioned Trader Joe's, and had no idea how amazing the chain is. There still aren't that many of them out there. Yet. For most of the country.

So what I need is for someone to start a blog on living well, within one's means, in the heartland, in the countryside, starting from scratch. Start with the premise that there are no upscale grocers within reach, that there are no downscale grocers within reach for that matter, and that it's not growing season so starting a garden this very instant is not an option. Teach me to make wonderful, inexpensive, healthy meals from what I can buy in bulk at Sam's Club and keep in the basement for weeks between shopping expeditions. Teach me to use the limited number of green things that I can buy, and in the limited time that I have before they go bad in the fridge. Teach me to be imaginative with dried herbs that keep, rather than assuming that I will be buying fresh herbs every few days.

My friend Lisa said I should just start this blog for myself, but I want someone else to teach ME. :o)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gary, a fine guinea pig

I just put Gary to sleep. She was a wonderful pet and very sweet. She lived longer than most guinea pigs and was loved very much by all of us for her sweetness, her calm temperament, her funny ways, her energy, her friendliness. Gary had been slowing down quite a bit over the past few weeks and then got much worse last night. I debated most of the morning on letting her linger and finally decided that I needed to have the guts to love her to the end of her little life, and I put her to sleep with ether. She just went to sleep and will not wake up.

I'm thankful for sweet pets. It never seems fair that they live such short lives compared to our own.

The "kids" are all off to school

Trimester 3 began this morning, and this time I sent 4 off to school. :o) Britta and Master K left at 7:30, Lil Miss A at 8:10, and now Barry is out the door a few minutes before 9:00. He has 9 units' worth of classes this trimester, and the really neat thing about it is he only has to drive to the high school in Lansing to take them, as it is considered a satellite campus for these courses and the high school kids with whom he is taking the classes are getting dual credit (high school and junior college) for them.

I even packed him a lunch. :o)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The "extravagant blessing" of a good marriage

Sweet Annabelle blogged today about the blessing of a good and Godly marriage. Her post brought tears to my eyes. I hope you will read it all, but here is an excerpt if you don't have the time:

I used to wish  that we'd have more money, maybe live in a bigger house, drive newer (faster) vehicles. Now, standing where I am, and having been where I've been, I know that I'm already rich and have been for some time! God  has given me the extravagant wealth of a truly loving husband and a fulfilled marriage. 

The hurt of unhappy marriages has been all around me lately. Because of this and more than ever, I feel the urging to guard and treasure this gift. If you have been given the same wonderful gift, I'm rejoicing with you and encourage you to also guard your treasure. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Equipment meltdown

I was on a real roll at work on Monday and Tuesday. Doing great on the line counts. Getting my hours in. Flying! Then yesterday my headset broke. One of the wires got a funky connection or something, so that I could only hear audio through it if the wire was held straight up at an angle alongside my head. I could wind the cord around the earpiece just so and as long as I didn't move a muscle, it would work. Trouble is, I cannot keep from moving a muscle, and at some point after the wire had slipped for the stimulus time and I lunged for it, my ergonomic keyboard slipped off my lap and landed upside down, and now the 2, the control and the O keys, and probably some others but those were the ones I noticed immediately, don't work.

I quickly ran through the spare headsets I had in a drawer and all of them were worse than nothing. I am currently transcribing with the teeny little laptop keyboard and listening through the laptop speakers. I'm crunched up in a tiny, tense little ball with my arms crabbed up trying to reach the keys and straining to hear the dictations. Really ergonomic! My arms hurt, my elbow pain flared up big time (I'm back in my elastic elbow brace) and I am cranky as all git-out.

Webmedx used to replace these things for me, but I am hard on keyboards, and the last time I broke one, the equipment guys strongly hinted that I am TOO hard on keyboards, so I bought my own. That's the one I just dropped. Tonight I did win 2 spares on eBay which the seller is shipping right out, but it will take awhile. I use the Microsoft Elite keyboard which is sort of wave-shaped. I also have a couple of headsets on order, just cheapos but they work well; they are just like the set that broke.

All-State Ensemble Speech

I neglected to tell you that Britta and her friend Dustin B. are going to All-State Speech once more with their mime. It's in Iowa City on February 21st. Also representing Kee High will be the Radio News program which is prerecorded; Britta and Dustin will actually be performing their mime again. This is the one titled "Labor of Misconception," about a young couple expecting their first baby any moment, and the hilarity that ensues when he thinks she is in labor - and she isn't. Basically these are the same characters they played for last year's mime, in which the couple went fishing. The year before, it was Dustin and another young lady, getting engaged. We figure if Dustin were around next year the natural progression, given how this couple is doing, would be the Hilarious Divorce.

Dustin is trying for a theater scholarship at Viterbo University. We know how talented he is and I hope the auditions go very well for him. 

Ten Buck Theater Presents...

My dad sent this playbill for Ten Buck Theater's latest recession-proof entertainment value. I don't particularly want to live in the Twin Cities, but there are fun things about living there, for sure.

Annual Event

I'm a Powerseller again, though it won't last. I cannot sustain the sales levels through the summer. But it's fun once a year to be a Powerseller!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Interviewed by a High School Student

I received a neat e-mail this morning from a high school senior who was researching careers and found this blog by searching on medical transcription. She wanted to interview me for her project. Of course I agreed. She asked good questions. I decided I'd post her questions and my answers here, just for fun.

She is in bold, I am not.

Thank you for your response.
Here are some questions that I came up with:

1.) Why did you choose this career?

I had been working in the publishing field before I had any children. Counting the commute, I was away from home 13 or more hours a day. When I had my first child, I could not stand the idea of leaving her for that long. When my maternity leave was up, my employer offered me a layoff, and I took it. A friend of mine was a medical transcriptionist and she encouraged me to retrain (the unemployment rate was pretty high then, as it is now, and there were funds available for federal job retraining programs) as an MT, as it would be a much more family-friendly career path. I did so. It would be untrue to say I chose this as a career, I more like fell into it. :o)

2.) How long have you done Medical Transcription?

I started training in 1991 and started working in 1992, so, 17 years.

3.) Why did you think that this career would suit you?

I am pretty detail-oriented and self directed. I like editing written text - frankly I like pointing out people's mistakes! I had no medical background, but plenty of interest. I was good with computers; in my past jobs, I had done quite a bit of software training. I picked up new things quickly. Mostly I did not care if it suited me particularly, as I needed a job and I needed it quickly.

4.) What education did you need to follow this career?

I would have done things differently had I known better, but what I did was take a few courses at the local junior college. I already had a BA degree with a strong emphasis in English. I took some medical courses at the junior college and then did an internship. Had I to do it over again, I would have chosen more formal training even if it took longer.

5). How fast can you type?

I'm not sure. Probably about 85 wpm. I use a lot of expansions, though, that gets my actual transcription speed more up around 150 wpm. Most medical transcriptionists rely heavily on expanders to save their hands (and their brains).

6.) How long did it take you to find employment?

At first I was not really looking for employment, per se; I looked for individual medical offices that were interested in contracting out their transcription. I found my first contract within about 3 weeks. Within 3 months, I had enough work coming in to work 30 hours a week.

My first "real job" came years later when I closed up my business and we moved across the country. I was hired at the first national MT firm where I applied, mostly because I had a personal recommendation from someone already working there. Networking on the Internet has been invaluable in my MT career. All of my jobs have come from networking.

7.) What is your job atmosphere like (home or office)?

I work from home, so my atmosphere is whatever I make it. I have a bedroom in my house converted into my office. I use an ergonomic keyboard and a laptop to transcribe. One thing I love about working from home is that my pets are always around. Right now I have one dog and two cats snoring away while I work.

8.) What do your daily duties consist of? (pros and cons)

I work 8 hours a day. I am paid by the line (that's 65 characters), but I still have to put in 8 hours. So if I can concentrate on just working during my 8 hours, I can earn more than if I allow lots of interruptions. I still have 3 kids at home, so my daily routine is usually this: The last kid leaves the house between 8:15 and 8:30 a.m. I make coffee, pay some bills or clean something till 9:00, then clock in and transcribe. I try to have 6 hours of work in before the first kid arrives home at about 3:00 p.m. The other kids usually come home around 4:00 p.m. I use the time when they are in and out and wanting to talk to me to get supper started, then usually get 30-60 more minutes of work in before supper, and the rest after supper. So you can see my day is long. It's not 8:00 to 5:00. :o)

My daily work duties are reading the emails that we get all through the day about procedures and progress on our various accounts; keeping up with any changes on how we are transcribing a particular account (as the clients are constantly changing things); transcribing/editing and proofreading reports and sending them in and downloading more work. I am only paid for actually typing, so if I can do the email reading and other clerical stuff off the clock, I earn more. Some companies require a lot of paperwork that you don't get paid for, but the company I'm with now is really good about keeping that to a minimum and letting us just work.

I guess this is a good place to mention that we are not transcribing anywhere near as much as we used to. The industry is switching over to editing reports that have already been run through a speech recognition program. I would say that 90% of my work is still actually transcribing, but I am probably in the minority with that; many, many MTs now edit a lot more than they transcribe. If the program is set up properly, an MT can produce a ton more on speech recognition than transcription.

That's not really pros and cons as you asked for. Okay, so, pros: I'm at home. I love working from home. Within the bounds of my work schedule, I am flexible. I can work when I am most mentally alert. I can work in comfortable clothes, with comforting things around me, and use strategies that I know work for me to keep me productive. Cons: I'm at home. Other people live here too, and even though 3 of them have lived with a work-at-home mom their entire lives, they still forget that when Mom is working, Mom is WORKING. When I'm in my office with the door closed, they are killing each other or doing things on the Internet they are not supposed to be or NOT doing their homework or eating junk food right before dinnertime or starting fires or whatever. Oh, I can't think about it right now! Grrrrr! Sometimes I think if I dressed up in work clothes and drove somewhere to work and came home hours later they would respect me more. But they would be broke, because I could not earn as much money doing that as I earn now.

9.) Are there any advancement opportunities for you to rise into a higher position?

Probably, if I want them. :o) Within our company, the next step up would be someone who supervises a team of MTs. I held that position in the last company I worked for. I can't say I really liked it all that much. I was not good at keeping my life and theirs separate. I let myself get too personally involved. Another advancement opportunity is to become a quality assurance/mentor who helps train other MTs and helps them with things they get stuck on. I know several MTs who have wrecked their hands and wrists with years of typing and now are QA mentors and really like it.

I owned my own MT service before we moved and I supervised a team of MTs and delivery people. I enjoyed it. It was stressful, but I enjoyed it.

10.) How great are the employment opportunities for someone seeking a job?

That's a tough question, and I absolutely don't want to discourage you, nor do I want to get your hopes up too high. :o) There are opportunities all over the place for people who can do the work. There are a lot of people out there who say they are MTs and cannot do the work. If you are trained well and go through the process to become certified or registered (CMT or RMT), if you are dedicated to what you do, you will have more work than you know what to do with. Our company recently bought an MT training school because it was having such a hard time finding good MTs and decided to grow its own. :o) Other companies have taken another path and hired workers in other countries to try to meet their staffing needs.

Getting the first job is the hardest part, and it will be much easier if you pick a training program that offers some kind of internship or externship that gives you actual experience. That's how many MTs land their first job. After you have the first job, you can pick your next one.

11.) What do you think your future will hold, because of this job?

I know it will change. I told you about ASR (automated speech recognition, which my company calls ISR, or intelligent speech recognition). That will be a big factor. The job will become more automated to be sure, but in my opinion, ASR will become just another tool of the job. I cannot imagine transcribing on a typewriter, yet that's how it was done for years. I cannot imagine transcribing without an abbreviation expander, yet I did it for years. With each change, we became able to produce more (and usually better) medical records. That will continue.

When I went into this field, I was not sure what my goals were. I was looking at this little baby who needed me and that's all I could see. I couldn't see years down the road. After a few years, I figured I would transcribe until the children were all in school, and then when they needed me less I would probably go back to the publishing field and work in an office again. But what I learned was 1) the kids never stopped needing me, and 2) I really liked MT! I was making excellent money at it. It would have taken a long time at a publishing job to work back up to what I was making every day doing medical transcription.

I could not foresee that we would move to the Upper Midwest. I sure never guessed I would end up living in a beautiful tiny town on the banks of the Mississippi River, with no industry to speak of and a pretty depressed economy. Yet here we are. And my employer doesn't care where I am so long as there's a good Internet connection there. My husband is losing his job of 11 years, the job that brought us to the Midwest, this Friday. (Friday the 13th. Great day to lose a job.) We are concerned, but not panicking, because I have a great job that is as secure as any in this economy. It has turned out to be a good choice.

So I guess to answer your question, I believe I will be doing this till I retire. :o) The shape of the job will likely change in that time. It has changed a lot in 17 years. In another 17 years, maybe I will not need a keyboard. Maybe I will be editing rather than transcribing. Maybe I will be teaching MTs. Maybe I'll be teaching computers. :o) Maybe it's something I have not yet thought of. But my skills will still be needed, somewhere. I will still be learning new stuff and putting it to work. I would not like this career if it were static. I would get bored if it were the same old, same old all the time. I learn new things nearly every day and I love that.

Thank you so much!

You're very welcome, and I'm glad you asked. I also forwarded your list of questions to my supervisor and I believe she will be answering too, so you get another perspective. (Yep! I just got a copy of her answers! She is much more articulate than I am.)

Best of luck on your project.

Kind regards,
Maria Stahl, CMT

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cuttin' the Cables

Well, not literally. We have cable TV (the very basic broadcast channels, not even CNN), cable Internet and cable telephone service. Here in the boonies, there is no TV signal to speak of, so if you don't have cable TV, you don't have TV. All told it's about $120 a month. I just called up and canceled our basic broadcast TV service which will save about $25 a month. We watch everything online anyway, or we stream it through Netflix. (Master K is currently working his way through all the seasons of Red Dwarf.) When we all counted up how much time we actually watch television, it was not $25 a month's worth of TV time. And when President Obama preempted Chuck last night, it was the last straw.

Just chipping away here and there at the budget, trying to identify what really enriches our lives and what doesn't. We need the cable Internet for my work, and even now that we are past the introductory special on cable telephone, it is still saving us money.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Stress Relief Tactics from Mrs. Mac

My friend Mrs. Mac posted this hilarious graphic and I cannot resist reposting.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Happy Birthday To... Britta!

Miss B is now 18, so I will start using her real name.

Poor chilly manatees!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Forbes: Ten Things We're Still Buying

Interesting article on about things that consumers are still buying in the US. Briefly, they are:
  1. Smart phones.
  2. Video games and consoles.
  3. Gym memberships.
  4. Personal care items.
  5. Toy building sets (like Legos!)
  6. Car maintenance (keeping our old cars up rather than replacing them)
  7. Dress casual shoes (like you can wear to work)
  8. Restaurant food. (Really? I'm surprised.)
  9. Movie tickets.
  10. Netbooks. (Again, I am surprised.)