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Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Salary Question

 One thing I've learned from my relatively short time working as a speech-language pathologist is that compensation is all over the place.  Sure, there are average salaries you can look up, but they can be misleading.  One problem is the different types of compensation structures, full employee vs. independent contractor, salaried vs. hourly.  All of these structures come with their own fine print attached.

For much of last year, I worked as a contractor in a local school district, but was compensated as a full employee by the company that hired me.  So, in essence, I was taxed as a full employee (independent contractors pay a much higher rate of taxes) and had access to benefits (but not the stellar benefits offered to employees of the school district).  I was paid an hourly wage for 7.5 hours out of the day.  The catch was that I did not get paid for days when school was not in session, including breaks and snow days.  I was offered the chance to renew my contract, but knew that I didn't want to be a contractor forever, and decided to hit the job market again.  When I interviewed, and people asked about my salary expectations, I told them what I was making as a contractor.  What I didn't fully realize was that the company I worked for paid me a somewhat higher hourly wage to make up for all the times during the year that I wouldn't get paid.  (Note to any new SLPs reading this: Some contractors will not be as generous, and will just expect you to either subsist on ramen noodles or get a second job for when school isn't in session).

I learned the error of my ways when I was interviewing for my current position.  I had actually had preliminary conversations with them some weeks prior and then they stopped contacting me.  Someone in HR let it slip that the reason they hadn't followed up was that my previous hourly wage was more than they were willing to pay me.  As it happened, while I would have preferred not to take a pay cut, I was still interested in the position because of the sort experience I stood to gain.  So it worked out, but it made me wonder if I had inadvertently priced myself out of other opportunities I had interviewed for.

My preference is for employers to just say what they're willing to pay, either in the job ad or in the early stages of the interview.  But at least in my field, a lot of them don't, and a lot of them ask about salary expectations and press hard for a number.  In spite of the generous free socks offered by my current employer, I'm applying for other jobs again.  I spoke to a recruiter for a job I am very interested in today, and, of course, the question of compensation expectations came up.  I started by giving the usual answer about how I liked to consider the full compensation package, but then turned the tables on her and said, "May I ask what is budgeted for this position?"  Not only was she able to give me a very specific range, I learned how they decide what to pay their employees (completely based on years of experience, in this case).  I'm glad I asked because (a) I didn't price myself out of the opportunity, (b) I won't be surprised at the figure if I go forward in the interview process, and (c) I know now how they decide on compensation.  Now that I've cleared that hurdle, I just have to hope for luck as I (hopefully) move forward in the interview process...

Sunday, December 19, 2021

My Phone Is Trying To Censor Me

 The other day, while texting Scott, I tried to type a four-letter word.  While this word would technically be considered "bad," it's not one of the words that's particularly likely to offend most people.  My phone autocorrected what I typed to "dawn."

Of course, I deleted dawn and retyped my intended word.  I tried this a few times, only to have my phone autocorrect it back to dawn each time.  I was forced to give up on my intended profanity.

It made me wonder how often the word dawn appears in text messages.  I personally can't recall ever texting the word dawn, and I don't often hear it in spoken conversations, either.  Maybe all the night owls of the world swear when dawn arrives?  Thoughts and ideas welcome!

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Not To Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth, But...

 Ever had a really hard time feeling grateful for something?  If so, you're not alone!

Recently, at work, we had a video call with one of the higher-ups in the company.  It was this higher-up talking to (I think) all the facilities under her leadership.  In the course of this call, this person revealed that (for reasons that may become very clear in a moment), they were having trouble retaining employees, and that they wanted to express their thanks and appreciation to all of us.  As a gesture of appreciation, they were giving us a small gift meant to signify the company "taking a step in the right direction"...

They had gotten a pair of crazy socks for each of us.

To be specific, we had our choice of either an argyle or a striped pattern in bright colors that some people might say clashed with each other.  The company name was prominently interspersed with the pattern.  The socks are of a dress sock weight, with a distinctly casual look.  Which I'm realizing as I write might be unfair to the entire concept of "casual."

So far, only one of my coworkers has claimed a pair.  The rest of them are creating clutter in our shared office.

The higher-up in question assured us at the time that the company wasn't thanking us with socks.  But honestly, the fact that she felt the need to clarify that point makes me think that that is exactly what they are doing.

There are far worse problems to have, of course.  I am grateful to have a job.  But truthfully, I would have gladly taken whatever minimal cash value those socks had over the socks themselves.  Really, when you think about what employees would like at work, I don't think crazy socks make the list for many people.  More money and more time off are probably the most popular perks for everyone.  But mentorship, training, and educational opportunities are also welcome, and not all of those have to cost much money or time.  When all else fails, food is probably a more popular perk than socks.

Starting a new career during the pandemic has been an interesting journey.  I've been fortunate to find work, but none of the jobs I've had since graduating from Grad School 2.0 have been a dream job, to say the least.  As a result, I always have a wish list of things I'd like to have in a job in an ideal world, as well as ideas of how to make the next job incrementally better than the current job.  Short of a dream job, maybe I could shoot for moving up from free socks to free t-shirts.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Pandemic Daze: First Cold

 What with all the time I spent at home during some portions of the pandemic, and all of the mask-wearing and hand-sanitizing during the other portions, I have only now gotten my first cold since the pandemic started.

Naturally, this has inconveniently coincided with my having started a job a few weeks ago.  I haven't accrued much paid leave anyway, and this particular job does not allow me to take paid leave until after I've spent 90 days on the job, so I'm sitting at home not being paid.  Boo.

When to stay home with an illness is one of those points of pandemic etiquette and procedure that I imagine will be evolving.  In the past, I probably would have gone to work like this and powered through, probably at the cost of getting sicker myself (and possibly at the cost of spreading it to someone else).

But now, people are more likely to view respiratory diseases with some alarm.  My work place does a daily temperature check, so in the event that I ran a fever, I would be sent home anyway.  Also, I'm currently working with  a medically vulnerable population.

However, it's worth noting that temperature checks and social expectations are not fool proof.  Not all infections cause a fever.  Temperature readings can be artificially low if someone has been outside in the cold.  And quite a lot of people are unable to afford unpaid days off from work, and will very likely try to go in no matter how awful they are feeling, and no matter how many dirty looks they might get every time they cough or sneeze.  

It's hard to say what the answer is to this problem.  Mandated paid sick leave is a start, but it's hard to know how much is adequate to keep people at home when that's where they really need to be.  But I'm hoping the pandemic will make people start asking these questions, if not for the sake of the people who feel forced to go to work no matter what, then for the sake of everyone else.  If there is anything we should have learned, it's that the person coughing, sneezing, or whatever else through the workday may be spreading more than a few a crummy days and an inconvenience.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

A Lot Of Birds In The Bush

 I'll start with the happy news/milestones portion of this post first.  In late July, I received my certificate of clinical competence (CCC) in speech-language pathology from the American Speech and Hearing Association!  This certificate is a culmination of completing my master's degree, passing a national Praxis exam, and completing a clinical fellowship year.  It is also a requirement for many jobs in the field. It was a long process, fraught with uncertainty, and I was relieved to be done.

I have been on the job market since the school year ended in June. I decided not to renew my contract with the local school district for a number of reasons.  In a nutshell, I felt like I was getting all the stress of working in the schools (high caseloads, etc.) without certain benefits like timely contract renewals, paid time off, and a solid retirement plan.  Also, I had decided in grad school that I really wanted to work with adults.  Graduating into the pandemic as I did, I wasn't able to be too choosy about my first jobs. And it turned out that I did enjoy working with children. But I wanted to see if I could work with adults, and I definitely didn't want to decide my first year out of grad school that a contract position with poor benefits was the best I could do.

I didn't get much interest from employers until I received my CCC, but once I did, I've received more attention from employers than I ever have in my life.  This includes jobs in which I would be working primarily or exclusively with adults. But, moving this interest from a bird in the bush to a bird in the hand has proven challenging. To be fair, I received one offer which I turned down due to a combination of a long commute and their HR rep being shady. But other than that, I have lots of potential opportunities in various stages, from trying to schedule initial phone calls to waiting to hear back from interviews. There are a couple of instances in which in theory I might still hear back, but really I think I'm being ghosted. 

It all makes for an emotional roller coaster, as well as a lot of time spent on things that likely won't pan out.  Interviews take time and energy even when they don't result in an offer.  It has led to a lot of introspection about what I really want.  At first, I was applying exclusively to jobs in which I would work with adults, but I've been wondering lately how much I really want to deal with (low pay, bad commute, odd schedule, etc.) to achieve that.  And if I put in my time at less-than-choice positions, would it even eventually translate to a better job working with adults?  Would a comfortable, stable pediatric position better?  There is part of me that wants to work toward goals I set for myself, but another part of me that just wants to settle on a job and get into a routine that involves earning income again.  An interesting additional twist to all this is that I am in the middle of a multi-step interview process for a job unrelated to speech-language pathology.  No guarantees of course, but it raises the potential question of whether I would be willing to abandon a field I put so much work into if the opportunity arose.

I keep telling myself that there are at least opportunities for speech-language pathologist, and my current level of engagement with potential employers is in stark contrast to what happened when I was looking for work after a layoff several years ago.  So, I feel like I'll be working again eventually one way or another.  I hope to write about my bird in the hand soon.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Balcony Garden 2021


Behold, this summer's balcony garden!  Our balcony gardening was fairly limited last year.  We were pretty late in acquiring any plants at all because we were dutifully staying at home except for essential outings.  Then, by the time we did decide to buy plants, moving was looking like a distinct possibility, so I didn't want to go too overboard.  I bought a few herb plants and moved them with us last summer.

I definitely wanted to do some balcony gardening this year. We currently have basil, cherry tomatoes, parsley, and my faithful mint plant.  One wrinkle of balcony gardening in our new home is that our plants get less sunlight than they did in our old place, mainly because we have a solid brick wall on our balcony here, as opposed to rails that let the light through.  I basically learn all of my gardening lessons the hard way, but may do some things differently next summer in light (haha) of our gardening circumstances.

Basil:  I'll grow this again next year.  Summer is basically incomplete for me without copious quantities of pesto.  It took some experimenting to help the basil plants get sunlight, but one of them has done extremely well with the planter raised off the ground, closer to the light.

Cherry tomatoes:  I really love the idea of cherry tomatoes and plan to keep trying.  This year has actually been reasonably successful.  The plants have a lot of brown leaves, but they are producing tomatoes.  Pollinators seem to be able to find our balcony, so I've stopped resorting to toothbrush pollination.  Unfortunately, other critters have been able to find the balcony, too, and sometimes take bites out of the tomatoes while they are still on the plant.  It seems to matter little whether the tomatoes are actually ripe or not.  I'm guessing squirrels are the perpetrators, although I did once see a chipmunk scuttling across the brick wall.

However...I think the cherry tomatoes would benefit from much more light than our balcony offers.  Our plants grew very tall very quickly, which I suppose could be a characteristic of their variety, but I suspect may have to do with them trying to reach more sunlight. The result of this is unwieldy tomato plants that spill over the balcony wall and sometimes appear to be fighting with the shrubbery behind the balcony.  I will try growing cherry tomatoes next year, but may try to find a variety that is more shade-tolerant.

Parsley:  This was a disappointingly underperforming plant this year, no doubt in part because it was visited by a parsley-eating caterpillar.  I'll probably try planting another herb in its place next year.

Mint:  How can I complain, when it keeps coming back year after year?  As long as this mint wants to survive, it has a planter with me.

I'm thinking of adding some shade-tolerant plants next year. I've read that leafy greens are generally okay in the shade, so I'm thinking of trying kale, particularly since I eat a lot of it anyway.  Short of a true crisis, it's hard to imagine what would make me want to move at this point, so I think I'll have plenty of time to figure out gardening on this particular balcony.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Vegan Meringues: A Sticky Partial Fail

 Although I'm not vegan (or even vegetarian), I've been somewhat interested in vegan cooking and baking for several years.  I had read before about using the water from canned chickpeas ("aquafaba," if we're being fancy), but had been extremely skeptical until I saw it being used on The Great British Baking Show. After watching contestants construct vegan pavlovas, I decided I would try scaling down a bit to make some vegan meringues. I consulted the internet for recipe ideas and learned that in addition to using the water in canned chickpeas, I could potentially use cooking water left over from cooking dried chickpeas (or even other dried beans).  This worked for me.  I do occasionally used canned chickpeas, but more often than not, I'll just cook a batch of dried chickpeas and keep them in the freezer for when I want to use them.

It came time today to cook some more dried chickpeas, so I carefully drained them over a large bowl and let the cooking liquid cool to room temperature.  I beat the liquid in the bowl of my mixer with a little bit of cream of tartar.  It was fun to watch because they really did look like egg whites becoming fluffy.

I put them in the oven, and they became dry and even a little crispy in less time than the recipe suggested.  I tasted one, and it was a little sweet for my taste, even though I had added less sugar than the recipe called for.  Still, it was tasty and had a cool texture.

However, a few hours after taking them out of the oven, they are becoming sticky and messy.  I warned Scott that if he wanted to stress eat meringues, he would have to do so soon.  I'm thinking it's possible that the humidity is a contributing factor to the sticky mess, but I don't know.  It was an interesting experiment, but I think I have to count this as at least a partial fail and think hard about whether I want to spend precious recreational cooking time trying again.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Downside To The Cicada Merriment

 Earlier this summer, I wrote here about the emergence of cicadas in the DC area. They were a fairly polarizing insect in this area, I believe with many more people hating them than loving them.  I actually like them, but am now experiencing an unforeseen (at least to me) downside to their emergence:  oak mites.

I had never even heard of oak mites before this summer.  Evidently, they are very small insects that eat cicada eggs (hence their large population this summer in the DC area).  They can be carried by the wind, land on people, and bite.  Though I have no way of definitively proving it, I believe both Scott and I have been bitten.

Scott was bitten first. He had a bite from something on his back. It didn't quite look like a mosquito bite, and he said it was much itchier. Then I saw a post on our community's that described similar bites and advanced the theory that it was oak mites. I subsequently saw news coverage of oak mite bites and how people were flocking to urgent care clinics and dermatologists for relief.

More recently, I had two bites on my back which were much itchier than mosquito bites. I tried using hydrocortisone cream, but I didn't get much relief.  I was having a fairly uncomfortable night of sleep, punctuated by the cat stretching next to me and clawing my itchy bites. Fortunately, I remembered that someone had who had posted on mentioned getting relief from putting gel hand sanitizer on the bites. I have no idea why that would work, but I tried it, and fortunately, it helped. So, consider this a public service announcement to anyone else who is similarly afflicted.

Not that I get any say in this at all, but I did enjoy the cicada emergence enough to think it was worth the oak mites now. That being said, seventeen years from now when this brood emerges again, I might consider enjoying the cicadas but then taking a long vacation somewhere else until the oak mites have had a chance to come and go.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Trying To Be Green

 Before the pandemic spread around the world and became the focus of everyone's attention, I wrote here about my fears and pessimism surrounding climate change and a small effort I was making to help Australia's wildlife.  I'm sorry to say that if anything, my fears and pessimism have increased since then.  This summer has been very frightening, with too many extreme weather events to keep track of.  Some that immediately come to mind are the apocalyptic heat waves and fires out west, fires in Siberia, and flooding in Germany and China.  Of those, the one that hit closest to home for me has been the heatwaves in the Pacific northwest.  I have several relatives there and have gone out there many time.  It's sad for me to think that such a wonderful area of the country may be changing forever.

I think we need much more than individual efforts to combat this existential threat that impacts us all; however, I'm not optimistic that sufficient government action is forthcoming, particularly in the US, where any and every issue is routinely politicized.  As a result, I am looking for ways to be "greener."  One of those ways is trying to divert some of my food waste from the landfill.

We're not living in an ideal environment to compost. We live in an apartment-style condo. In theory, I might be able to keep a small composting bin on the balcony (as long as it doesn't stink, attract pests, or do other things that would dismay my neighbors), but even if I could pull all of that off, there is the problem of where I would ultimately put the end product when I don't have a yard.  However, our local farmers market has a community composting program where you can drop off plant-based scraps.  I decided to join.

With limited space (and not a very firm grasp on how much plant-based waste we were actually producing), I bought a small counter top bin.  It turns out I pretty consistently fill it within the first 48 hours of emptying it.  This may be particularly true in the summer, when seasonal treats like melons and fresh corn create a large amount of waste in one go. I bought some biodegradable bags so I could store our compostables in the fridge after collecting them, not wanting a full bin on the counter to attract bugs. For a while, I tried filling the bin multiple times during the week, but it turns out our fridge is really too small to hold both massive quantities of scraps for compost AND all the food we plan to eat.

There are times when I wonder if it's worth the effort to divert maybe two days of waste from the landfill out of every week. But then I see the collection bins at the farmers market and how fast they fill up with so many people contributing. This community composting program certainly won't save the planet on its own, but it has been inspiring to see the power of collective action.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Happy 272nd Birthday, Alexandria!

 I've always enjoyed seeing fireworks displays, but in recent years, have only rarely gone to see them.  What usually holds me back is the idea of heading into large crowds with parking and/or mass transit scrums.  I made a happy discovery about our new home this year, though.  While I was researching if there was a way I could view DC's July 4th fireworks without actually going into DC and getting involved in the aforementioned scrums and crowds, I discovered that Alexandria celebrates the anniversary of its founding with fireworks!  Best of all, the park where celebrations were held is an easy walk from our home.  There are things I still miss about Silver Spring, MD, where we lived before moving here last summer.  However, the promise of annual fireworks that I can walk to is definitely a point in Alexandria's favor.

The Potomac River at night

My one fireworks photo that is recognizable as a firework

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Pandemic Daze: Traveling Right Now

 I'm not sure what to call this particular period of time.  I think we'd all like to think of this as the post-pandemic period, but I don't want to jinx us all by doing that.  After all, much of the world has little to no access to COVID vaccines.  Then there is the vaccine hesitancy in parts of the US to contend with.  So it may not be a post-pandemic period, but as someone who is fully vaccinated, I feel more freedom to do as I please, including traveling.  I just got back from a trip to North Carolina to see my parents and make a trip into the mountains so we could all escape the heat.  

From my experiences preparing to travel and traveling, it appears that the entire US is currently traveling.  However, if you're not currently traveling and want to travel, I can offer the following tips:

1.  Book pet care/housesitting early.  Granted, we were at somewhat of a disadvantage here because (a) this was our first overnight trip since moving last summer and we weren't established with a local company, and (b) we planned our trip on fairly short notice.  That being said, we were told by multiple local pet sitting companies that they were booked solid, and the sitter we ultimately hired through Rover told me she'd had to turn down multiple requests.

2.  Expect odd crowd patterns.  On the way to NC, we had to sit in a line of cars to get a parking spot at a rest area.  On the way back, we got off on an exit with the plan of going to McDonald's for coffee and a restroom break.  It turned out they were open for drive-thru service only, so we went to a combination convenience store and Dunkin' Donuts.  This was fine except that everyone else seemed to have the same idea, and I must have waited in line for a good 15 minutes to use the restroom.  

On an unrelated side note, it turned out that Dunkin' Donuts had iced decaf!  I was so excited to learn this, since even getting hot decaf is a struggle sometimes, and you nearly always have to get iced decaf as a more expensive specialty drink.  Dunkin' Donuts will be getting a larger share of my road trip coffee funds from here on out.

3.  Bring a mask.  In the interest of full disclosure, I wore my mask less on this trip than I had at any point since last spring.  But, I was happy to have it sometimes in crowded indoor environments.  Also, very occasionally, a business still wanted everyone wearing a mask (like a bookstore we stopped in before returning home).

Here are a few photos from the trip:

Linville Falls

Moth at Daniel Boone Garden

More bug-spotting at Daniel Boone Garden

Mountain view

Rhododendron at Linville Falls trail

Sunday, June 27, 2021


 Much to the envy of bug watchers everywhere, the DC area was recently a focal point for the emergence of Brood X cicadas!  This brood of cicadas emerges only once every 17 years, so for a bug event, this one was big.

As anyone who has ever lived with me can attest, I'm not really a bug person.  Cicadas, though, are one of the few bugs I actually do like.  They don't bite or sting, they're too big to fly into your eye or up your nose, and I'm fascinated by the varieties that spend years at a time underground.

The coverage of their 2021 emergence started many weeks ahead of time.  There was much hand-wringing by people who lived in the area in 2004, when they last emerged, and didn't enjoy them that time.  They were delayed in emerging due to a snap of unseasonably cold weather, and when they finally did, I was pretty underwhelmed and disappointed at first.  For all the coverage, I was expecting a Big Event, and I felt like I was mostly seeing a few stray wings on the ground.

They picked up as time went on, though.  I never felt like they were that numerous where we lived, but they were very thick on the ground (and in the sky and the trees) near one of the schools where I worked.  Walking to the bus stop at the end of the day made me feel like I'd gotten a true cicada immersion experience, between the deafening humming as I walked under trees, and cicadas actually landing on me from time to time.

Here are a few pictures to commemorate Brood X of 2021, along with a cicada necklace I made to welcome them in style!

Monday, May 3, 2021

Sunglasses Are The New Shoes

 Lest anyone become alarmed, (a) I will not be dispensing fashion advice on this blog, and (b) I am not advocating that anyone wear sunglasses on their feet.  

I've maintained for a long time that no article of clothing can make me nearly as miserable as shoes.  Ill-fitting shoes rub blisters and put pressure on the bottoms of feet.  If you're already out walking, you have no recourse as each step becomes increasingly agonizing.  No other article of clothing comes close in my opinion, but I'm starting to think of sunglasses as shoes-lite in terms of the aggravation and discomfort they cause.

I didn't wear sunglasses regularly until the year I spent in Syria (between 2004 and 2005).  I bought an inexpensive pair of sunglasses with wraparound frames to take with me, and I finally understood the hype about sunglasses--it really is more comfortable to not have a strong, unfiltered sun in your eyes!  I wore these sunglasses for years, though they frames were quite rickety even when they were new (I actually had them repaired in Syria because a screw came out).

I tried at some point after returning to the US to get a pair of sunglasses with less rickety frames.  I got a pair, but then found that the arms of the glasses dug into my head and gave me a headache.  I decided to take my chances with the rickety frames.

Several years ago, I had a flexible spending account funds that I needed to use or lose, so I got a pair of prescription sunglasses.  I liked these a lot. The frames were more solid than the pair I took to Syria with me and the glasses were comfortable to wear.  The one problem was that if anything, they were a little loose, always threatening to slide off my nose or the back of my head.  Despite their escape tendencies, I managed to hold on to them until a couple of weeks ago when one of the arms broke.  I'm not sure what caused it to break, but decided it was beyond repair and I would need a new pair.

While I hemmed and hawed over what type of sunglasses to get, I found the old pair I had taken with me to Syria.  The frames are as rickety as ever, and the hinges were getting caught in my hair when I pushed the sunglasses on top of my head.  I hadn't remembered that "feature" of them.  I decided to speed up my search for a new pair.

I splurged a little and ordered a well-known brand of sunglasses on sale.  They have wraparound frames, which I like, and fit very securely to my face, lessening the chance that they'll slid off somewhere.  But, as I discovered while taking a walk on a hot day, they fit so securely that sweat pools around my eyes and doesn't evaporate when I wear them.  It reminded me of trying on a pair of shoes that feels comfortable in the store, but then rubs my feet raw as soon as I wear them out of the house.  I can't really return them at this point, and I feel slightly bamboozled.

I've ordered a cheaper pair of sunglasses with non-wraparound frames.  These won't provide the sun protection for the outer corners of my eyes, but I imagine they will allow enough air circulation for my eye sweat to evaporate.  Much like with shoes, maybe I just can't have it all with my sunglasses.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Pandemic Daze: A Uniquely COVID-Era Annoyance

 We took Stella to the vet a few days ago for her annual check-up and rabies shot.  This was our first time going to a new veterinary practice.  The one where we took our cats before we moved is an uncomfortably long distance from our new place, particularly for a cat who gets motion sick.  Plus, our favorite vet at that practice had moved on.

As is the case everywhere (well, at least in states that aren't encouraging a germ-swapping free-for-all), there were certain COVID protocols to abide by.  Among them were that I needed to call them when I arrived rather than just bringing Stella into the building, and that I needed to wear a mask (which I'm doing in public places anyway).  When they gave me the go-ahead to bring Stella in, it turned out they had the following additional procedures in place:

1.  Questioning pet owners about their recent health

2.  Giving me a disposable mask to put on on top of my cloth mask

3.  Checking my temperature before allowing me past the entryway

4.  Making me use their hand sanitizer (the icky foamy kind that leaves a lot of residue)

5.  Making me sit in a room down the hall from where they examined Stella, rendering me unable to try to comfort her as she yowled like a banshee

Then, after all of that, the vet came in to talk to me...and was wearing her mask under her nose.

Friday, April 9, 2021

I Live A Life Of Unparalleled Glamour

 I got to talk about skunk farts today at work.  

My job takes glamour to a whole new level!

Monday, March 29, 2021

Pandemic Daze: Growing Hair Like Rapunzel

 Technically, growing hair like Rapunzel isn't necessarily a feature of pandemic life, but I suspect that many of us had at least a brief period when it felt like it was.  In many areas, including mine, salons and barbershops were forced to stay closed for a while during the beginning of the pandemic.  I remember reading that there was a run on products like hair clippers and hair dye, as people struggled to maintain their hair at home.  Pre-pandemic, I typically got a haircut every couple months, and I don't dye my hair.  I had just had a haircut in February 2020, and I figured I'd maybe miss a haircut and then get back into my usual hair care routine.

In my area, salons and barbershops reopened in the summer of 2020, albeit with restrictions.  A lot of people jumped at the chance for some professional hair maintenance.  I decided to hold off.  I had become more concerned about the coronavirus than I was in March 2020, when things initially shut down.  And there were other risks I was taking that felt more important to me, like going back to my gym, looking to buy a home, and occasionally eating out.  I decided to wait and make sure there weren't any major outbreaks linked to salons.  Besides--I was low maintenance and could keep wearing a ponytail for a few more weeks.

As we moved into late summer and early fall, the number of cases rose again.  I also moved, which brought its own set of risks (ahem, maskless movers).  I decided I'd better keep holding off.  As time went on, my haircare moved from ponytails to messy braids (I never became a proficient braider in all that time).

Of course, winter brought a lot of cases and deaths.  Plus, by early winter, vaccines were on the horizon.  After having waited all that time, I decided in only made sense to hold off on getting a haircut until I was fully vaccinated.

Finally, two weeks after receiving my second shot, I got my first haircut in over a year!  Scott went with me, having also foregone haircuts for all of that time.  His hair was the longest it had ever been in his life, so his transformation was arguably more dramatic than mine.

Nonetheless, it had probably been a good 20 years since my hair had been that long.  When it was dry, it hung well past my shoulders; when it was wet, it reached the middle of my back easily.  I hated the feeling of wet hair against my back after a shower.  I hated having to braid it every day or risk it getting tangled.  I hated the amount of time it took to comb it out.  I also felt like I didn't look like myself.  The long hair was like a younger version of myself, transplanted on an older face and body.

It may be a small and somewhat shallow victory, but getting a haircut was a considerable boost to my spirits.  I don't know what the "new normal" will look like for us all as we hopefully move out of constant risk, but even having six inches chopped off my hair made me feel like I was moving in that direction.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Pandemic Daze: Returning To School

 One of the great debates during the pandemic has been what to do about the schools.  I think many people agreed that closing them at the beginning of the pandemic was a smart decision.  After all, we had very little information at that point about how Covid was transmitted.  But I also think most of us thought we would ride out the school year with virtual education, but then have the students return in the fall.  In my area, most (if not all) of the public school districts initially had plans for the students to return for hybrid education in the fall, generally with a plan for one day of asynchronous virtual learning for everyone, and then everybody going to the actual school for two days so they could have half the student body attending at a time.  As Covid cases rose during the summer, they had to revisit those plans.  The public schools in my area opened virtually in the fall.

Since then, the reopening process has been controversial.  I work as a contractor for one district in my area.  They had initially started a phased reopening in the fall, with groups of students coming back in relative order of need for in-person instruction.  They had to pull back as cases rose again.  After winter break, everyone was initially virtual again.  They have since phased in reopening again, to great controversy.  On the one hand, there were concerns that virtual learning was just not working for some students, and that students with existing struggles (special needs, challenging family circumstances, etc.) were at a particular disadvantage.  On the other hand, people have legitimate concerns about getting sick.  Data showing that transmission levels in schools are low when mitigation measures are in place is small comfort if mitigation measures are difficult to enforce (try enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing around preschoolers, for instance).

I can really see both sides of the issue, and I haven't been able to fault anyone for having strong feelings about it one way or another.  But the reopening that I have seen in my district has been eye-opening, to say the least.  In my district, parents were given a choice of whether to return their children to in-person instruction.  Of my current caseload, less than half are returning to in-person instruction this year.  Of those who are, most of them will only be in-person two days per week.

In order to accommodate as many family's wishes as possible, many kids are switching teachers mid-year.  At least a few of the students on my caseload have been pretty unhappy about that, and especially for kids who are already struggling for any reason, it seems that switching teachers in the middle of the year is counterproductive.  It also puts an additional burden on teachers, needing to get to know a whole new set of kids in the middle of the year.

There is also the question of what actually happens in the school.  I went into a kindergarten classroom recently and saw a bunch of kids sitting in desks spaced apart, with a taped-off square for each one.  Every kid was on their laptop, watching a teacher do something.  It looked like their at-home virtual learning had just been transplanted into the classroom.  I've also seen the very real challenges of trying to simultaneously engage students who are in the room and students who are learning from home.

I think the bottom line is that there is a lot we just can't predict.  We can't predict whether reopening schools under these less than ideal circumstances will benefit students enough to justify the risks.  We can't predict what sorts of gaps in learning will become evident once our lives return to some version of normal.  I'm hoping that while we're still stuck in this limbo we can move beyond whether schools are open or closed, or whether the learning is in-person, virtual, synchronous, or asynchronous, and think more about how to help kids learn as well as possible under any circumstances.  

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Pandemic Daze: Finally Vaccinated!

 Well, in spite of the complete lack of confidence I expressed in my last post, I received my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday!  I purposely scheduled it for a Friday so I would have the weekend to recover if I had any side effects.  So far, the side effects haven't been bad, and I tend to think I'm beyond the point at which they would be likely to get worse.  I'm feeling achy and tired today--if I hadn't had this shot yesterday, I would probably think I was coming down with something--but I'm still functioning.

I also feel relieved and grateful.  I think most of us have spent the past year worrying about the consequences of ordinarily inconsequential decisions (was the weekly trip to the grocery store going to land me or someone else in the ICU?).  Now (or at least a couple weeks from now, after I've had a chance to build up immunity) these small things will probably feel less consequential.

Many thing will stay the same.  I will still be careful to wear masks, especially since we don't know if the vaccine will prevent us from being carriers.  Most people I know have not been fully vaccinated yet (or even received their first shot), so it will still be a while before I can socialize in person.  But I think in a couple of weeks, I can feel safe getting my first haircut since last February, and maybe even eat in restaurants again.  It feels like good progress.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Pandemic Daze: The Vaccine Emotional Rollercoaster

 Vaccines have always seemed like the light at the end of the tunnel for this pandemic.  We spent months knowing that scientists were working hard to develop them, and that thousands of brave volunteers were participating in clinical trials.  It seems now like nothing short of a miracle that we have two highly effective vaccines approved in the US with several other promising candidate yet to be approved.

The giant caveat to this, of course, is that vaccine doses cannot be produced quickly enough to keep up with demand.  The fact that the vaccines currently approved in the US require two doses further complicates issues (not looking a gift horse in the mouth, mind you--I'm very grateful for any vaccines we can have!).

The solution has been identifying higher priority groups who should be vaccinate first.  Unfortunately, we do not yet have enough doses even for these groups.  With limited doses and sky-high demand, it feels that the vaccine roll-out has degenerated into a complicated free-for-all.

I think Scott and I can serve as a very small case study of some of the things that can happen with determining vaccine eligibility and actually receiving the shots.  We both live in one district and work in schools in another.  As people working in K-12 schools, we have been placed in a higher priority group to receive vaccines.  Scott works for this district as an employee; I work for them as a contractor.

The whole business of working for them as a contractor has been the root of a lot of aggravation.  When this district first partnered with a local hospital to provide vaccines, I only found out through Scott because I am not included on all of the email distros.  In theory, we would be able to sign up and use our employee badges as proof of employment.  As a contractor, for reasons I cannot even begin to understand, I have been issued a badge designating me as a volunteer.

On a side note, is there anything that will give parents more confidence than thinking that an unpaid volunteer is diagnosing and treating their children's communication disorders?  But I digress.

At that point, I contacted HR to ask for a letter confirming that I work in the schools.  They initially refused to help me, but ultimately relented when I escalated the matter up the chain.  So, I had my letter, and Scott and I both initially had vaccine appointments for tomorrow.

Then the hospital that was supposed to vaccinate us ran out of doses last week and cancelled appointments.  I don't know how that happened, but I'm guessing the mythical national vaccine stockpile may have played a role in their miscalculation.

A couple days later, they got more doses and issued invitations for people to sign up for appointments.  Except...Scott received one and I didn't.  I escalated this up the chain again, and this time they were a lot less helpful ("dismissive" is really the word that comes to my mind).  I'm happy to say he has an appointment tomorrow, but concerned that I don't.

In another email that I didn't get as a contractor (and Scott showed me), the district where we work said they would send an email to employees who were not invited to reschedule vaccinations to confirm that they still wanted the vaccine and then take next steps.  My question at this point is whether I (as a lowly contractor, rather than a high-fallutin' employee) will actually receive this email, or whether I will be completely shut out of the process.  As of now, as someone working in a school, my only option is for the district where I work to arrange for me to be vaccinated--I can't just take my letter confirming I work in the schools to a local pharmacy and arrange for an appointment that way.

So, the past few days have been an emotional rollercoaster for me, one that I suspect will continue for some time.  I know I'm not even in the worst position.  There are people who, in my opinion, are in risker occupations than mine who have not even been invited to start the process yet.  But I dream about the day when vaccine supply is no longer an issue and all of our hopes aren't centered around being able to receive shots.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Pandemic Daze: The Joys Of Working While Wearing PPE

 My job is currently mostly virtual, although that may change soon.  Plenty has been said about the challenges of working and learning remotely, but under the circumstances, working in-person is likewise not a picnic.

I had to go into a school today to conduct a speech and language evaluation for a kid.  First of all, as an issue entirely separate from the pandemic, evaluations are not my favorite part of the job, particularly ones that involve standardized assessments.  I have yet to find a way to make a standardized assessment fun for anybody, and they sometimes drag on for an unreasonably long time.

With schools in the district where I work being virtual for now, conducting one of these evaluations involves coordinating with parents to bring their child to school.  This always leaves open the possibility that they will be late or forget.  Also, they may have scheduling constraints for pick-up that do not match the realities of the testing.

Also, of course, we have to use PPE while we do the testing.  I'm pretty used to wearing masks, and I believe they are necessary, but they also prevent me from drinking water during a period of time when I have to do a lot of talking with a clear voice.  I'm always parched by the time I'm done.  I've been provided with what I think of as a crummy face shield (though I wonder how good they ever are), which is basically the equivalent of having to look through dirty glasses for the duration of the evaluation.  Today, at the request of a parent, I had to also wear a plastic disposable gown and some sort of slippery plastic gloves.

So, imagine the scene...I'm sitting with a kid I've never met before, possibly boring him to the point of tears with standardized assessments.  I'm getting a headache from dehydration and looking through a plastic sheet that is most definitely not transparent.  The plastic gloves I'm wearing are so slippery I have trouble turning pages in the test books that I'm using to show the kid pictures for the assessment.  And I'm straining to hear the kid's already quiet voice, which is muffled by his mask and the plexiglass barrier between us.

If we ever return to any approximation of "normal," so many things will feel so much easier than they are now.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Pandemic Daze: Already Missing The Capitol Steps

 One thing that has been clear since the beginning of the pandemic is that we won't be able to just resume life as it was.  Too much has changed.  In the worst cases, this has meant people dying prematurely of COVID-19 or suffering long term health problems.  But many valued businesses have also closed, leaving employees without jobs and customers without the services they provided.  We already know of a few favorite restaurants in our area that have closed, for example.  But that didn't prepare me for how sad I would feel this morning when I heard that the Capitol Steps would be shutting down.

For the uninitiated, Capitol Steps is a wonderful political satire group that has been around since the 1980's.  I became interested in them around middle school, when I became interested in politics and news events.  My family used to play their radio shows on NPR, and I used to record them using blank cassette tapes, and then go back and transcribe the songs I particularly liked.  There are some political events from years ago that I remember specifically because the Capitol Steps wrote songs about them.

I've been fortunate to have gone to several of their live performances.  I don't recall exactly when I went to the last one, but I had already started grad school 2.0 by then, so it was within the past couple of years.  Scott and I were talking about seeing another one in that elusive future time when such things may become possible again.

I've tried not to turn my blog into an extended political rant, but I have expressed some of my views about Trump on here before.  I've been very disturbed by his presidency for reasons that go far beyond the fact that he and I belong to different political parties.  But the fact that satire continued during the past four years gave me hope that things would ultimately be okay, and gave me much-needed laughs.  I could use some laughs now, as a matter of fact, having been swinging between sadness and anger since last week's insurrection at the Capitol.  (Though to be fair, I think it would be hard to find a humorous angle there).

Capitol Steps, you will be sorely missed.