Monday, April 27, 2009

Got Refinanced -- Training Going OK I Think -- Two by Two -- Mini Vacation Soon?

The value of our home has certainly taken a beating in this market, but (a) it had gotten ridiculously high during the bubble and so is now merely reasonable and (b) was enough for us to refinance and get our bills more organized and less expensive interestwise. Plus this interest is tax-deductible. So there is great rejoicing. And the place is mostly clean—wowza!

Had my first "real" training session for Kaplan yesterday, where we spent the whole time doing "teachbacks" -- we teach a section of the test and get feedback. It went so much better than I thought it would. (When I told Doug that, he just rolled his eyes. Then I said, to be funny, "I don't think I flunked," because that's what I said all the way through grad school every time I had a test . . . then got 100 percent. He doesn't understand my insecurities, which is very sweet of him—not to understand why I wouldn't feel confident about my abilities.)

I'm also working on a GRE book for Kaplan Publishing right now, so I'm getting a GRE immersion experience!

Two by two: I saw two bunnies under the birdfeeder at the same time the other evening. That means baby bunnies! Also, last summer we had a small reddish squirrel join the big gray ones we're used to seeing, and the other day, I saw two red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus; see also the U of Mich site here) chasing each other along the fence. That means baby red squirrels! Still not seeing many birds, just the ubiquitous house sparrows, a pair of house finches, a male cardinal, and the odd robin looking for bugs.

American Red Squirrel
Photos © Patriot Plaistow John

I desperately need a change of scenery, and although Doug travels for work, he'd like to get away without working for once. I think we're going to go on a little jaunt to Madison, WI, for a couple of days. Enjoy the restaurants on State Street, cruise the art galleries, walk around the lakes, visit the Oldrich Botanical Gardens . . . As long as we can work our schedules so we can both get away when the weather is good there—it all needs to come together . . .

Haven't updated about the fish for a while. Maybe it's about time for another long, geeky tropical fish update?

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New Job (in addition to, not instead of)! Entire Main Floor Clean!

I think I'm the anti-Twitter. I save up my blogging for weeks until I've got a bunch to say, and even then it's not likely to set anyone atwitter (pun fully intended).

New job: On February 2, I posted that I was exploring an opportunity that would build on both my copyediting and human resources experience. Well, I got the gig! At least, I qualified for training for the gig, and if after all the public speaking experience I've had I can't figure out a way to get through training, I'll be really disappointed with myself. So I finally feel comfortable talking about this thing. (Geez, Paula, just out with it already!)

I've been hired by Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions to teach (to train to teach, at this point) the GRE test. I've worked on quite a few test-prep books for Kaplan Publishing, and of course I did tons of training of a variety of material for a range of audiences when working in HR. I genuinely enjoy standardized tests (yes, I am a geek!), and I find teaching very energizing. I figure doing this will get me more contact with people—freelancing at home all the time can be pretty isolating—and let me flex different skill muscles. Although I don't need the money, there's nothing wrong with extra cash flow, either, and there's probably a benefit to having an income stream apart from the ups and downs of the book publishing industry.

The hiring process was elaborate. They clearly take the selection process seriously and won't scoop up just anyone with high test scores. First I applied online at the website. They invited me to come in to audition, but I was also informed that since my test scores were over five years old, I needed to take a practice exam at the local office to show that I still had the stuff (stuff being defined as "top 90th percentile"). I scheduled the audition and took the practice test—my scores were fine. For the audition, I gave a five-minute presentation on how to plan a garden; I had fun with it. Then I was invited to come in for an interview. And then I was invited to train. I think they audition pretty much continuously, and there were eight people at my audition, but there are only four of us in my training cohort. This makes me think the process is pretty selective.

Now I'm going to get scored on a detailed array of performance areas at each training session, and I have to score at a certain level by midpoint in the training or I wash out. It's a bit daunting! I need to get used to working from the Kaplan teacher's manual. It's actually an awesome tool, but as with any tool, one needs to learn how to use it well.

So hopefully sometime in May I'll have news that I've passed training and I'll get to help aspiring grad students do their best on the test.

Clean house! Yes, we buckled down and got the entire main floor plus most of Doug's office upstairs cleaned up. Doug even brought up hundreds of books from the basement and put them on the beautifully custom-finished shelves in our living room. Who knew bookshelves could be used for books instead of assorted junk? He also brought up our framed art and hung it on the walls. Books! Art! The place looks like the residence of civilized, settled beings rather than squatters and various beasts.

What brought on this burst of domestic activity? Our local bank contacted us about refinancing our debt. This involved having a property assessor come to our home. This meant getting the place presentable. One end of the upstairs and the basement are still royal messes. We have to come up with some compelling deadline to get us to tackle those. The cool thing, though, is that as messy as the place was, cleaning it up only took a few days of intermittent work. (At the same time, I was working on copyediting projects, and Doug was getting things done for Avalanche.) So it can be done! Yes we can!

Funny thing: So much dust and hair and fur were covering every surface that picking up and even dusting and vacuuming stirred a lot of it into the air. A few hours later or the next day, after the air had settled, there would be a coat of dust over everything again. I'm just continuing to vacuum—we've filled a lot of vacuum cleaner bags!—and I'll probably dust thoroughly again in a week or so. Eventually maybe we can triumph, even over the Cubby Bear hair. The beautiful boy makes our blue and green carpets a nice tan. He also adorns our walls with his lovely slobber when he shakes his head.

My eyesight: Great news! After getting my retinal dystrophy checked out, I went ahead and got new lenses for my glasses with my new prescription, and I see great now! Hopefully my eyes have finished changing with regard to close-up vision for a while.

The hard part: I didn't need new frames, so I just sent them in to get the new lenses fitted, figuring I'd get by on an old pair of glasses for distance vision and take them off and move my eyes close to things for close-up reading. Ugh. Bad decision. For one thing, my distance vision has changed more than I realized. For another, the take-'em-off-to-read approach works great for, say, curling up on the sofa with a book for fun. But for copyediting, where I might be going from hard-copy manuscript to computer screen to style guide in rapid succession, it was horrible. After a week of that, I was so stressed out! But now I really-really-really appreciate my up-to-date progressive lenses that make everything sparkly clear at all distances without effort.

More good news! British researchers have had very promising results treating macular degeneration by "replacing a layer of degenerated cells with new ones created from embryonic stem cells." It works well in rats, and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer is now funding the clinical trials in humans. If all goes well, the treatment will be ready as a one-hour outpatient procedure in six to seven years. Go stem cell research!


  • The Pearl Carpet of Baroda is just so freaking gorgeous! If I were still running a role-playing game set in a world I created that was a kind of Renaissance-Italy-meets-Ancient-Egypt, this would so be there.
Pearl Carpet of Baroda
  • I love the idea of having chickens, for the home-grown eggs and just because they're cute, and urban chickens are a thriving trend. But we don't have a heated garage, a necessity for our winters, and the dogs would probably stress out the chickens (chase games are so much fun!!!) This video provides a good education on the pleasures and responsibilities of urban chicken keeping.

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