Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Do I know you?

I came in to work this morning, and ran across an impromptu manager's meeting in the hallway. Among other things, I learn, one of our testing machines had broken, and can't be fixed for several weeks. One of our customers generously agreed to let us use their machine, and we sent someone over with an order of parts.

When our employee finished his tests, he had to wait for his ride (our truck driver). While reading the newspaper, he was reprimanded three times (by three different employees of the customer) for slacking off.

We teased him that we were too easy on him at my company, so the unfair criticism at our customer balanced that out. But still, how weird that multiple people would assume a stranger was under their supervision.

Manufacturing down, manufacturing up

My company processes parts for heavy equipment. Much of this is for the ag industry; winter is a slow month for that market. Another significant part of our workload is (was?) automotive parts - that segment of our business has dropped by more than half in the past two years, and the decline has accelerated in the past few months. (Which makes me cynical about the automotive bailout - the "automotive-related jobs" at my company have already been hit, I'm not convinced keeping the big three afloat would actually trickle down to us).

With major business sources down, and other customers slowing with the economy, we're spending more time wiping counters and mopping floors instead of processing parts. The company laid off six people last week, out of sixty employees. If we get down to thirty employees, I'm told, I'll go to the night shift. It's reassuring to know I'd still have a job at that point. But unsettling that the company is even contemplating cuts that big.

In the midst of this, a big jump in gun parts. Apparently gun sales are way up. To the point I can't even contact those customers: I tried unsuccessfully for two days to call one with a question about processing. (I ended up faxing my question.) Many of the orders are "big rush".

I've been conflicted for years on making part of my living from gun manufacture. At this point, however, it's sure nice to have at least one area of business with a good outlook.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Shingle mystery

Last Wednesday, I came home from work and found a paper laying in my yard. I went over to pick it up, and found that it was a piece of a business check, the kind that come in three-ring binders. Looking around for a clue to where it came from, I see a shingle in front of my house.

A shingle and a business check in my yard? I think I know where these came from. I walk toward the shingle, craning my neck a little to look at my neighbor's house. I was right: there's no tarp on his roof. The damage from a storm in July was repaired.

Our neighbor taking so long on the repair had made us feel better about taking a long time. We recently hired a contractor to do some structural work and remodeling in addition to fixing our eaves and gutters; most of the work probably won't start until spring. We'll be the last ones by far in our neighborhood to take care of damage from that storm. The neighbor actually had a hole in his roof, though, so I'm glad he got it fixed before winter set in. It's good to be prepared for winter.

Pericarditis that goes on and on

Last month, I was diagnosed with pericarditis, inflammation of a sac that surrounds the heart. It's usually caused by a viral infection, and resolves as the immune system clears the virus. But weeks went by, and I continued to have wandering pains all over my upper torso (mild, fortunately), pressure in my chest when lying down (especially on my back), and noticed that sometimes my resting heart rate was as high as 120 beats per minute. I worried I had one of the less common causes, such as an autoimmune disease.

When I had the chest pressure while standing up Friday morning (probably for just fifteen minutes, but it seemed like a long time), I made an appointment to go back to my doctor. The nurse did a double-take when reading my heart rate between 111 and 118 beats per minute, but I was relieved they'd be able to examine me while I had that symptom. The doctor listened to my heart and lungs, did an EKG, and thinks I'm fine. No signs of arrhythmia or fibrillation, and the "rub" sound in my heartbeat has not returned. He showed me the difference in my EKG from four weeks ago, how that one had been abnormal and yesterday it was normal.

He said I may continue to have these symptoms for two or three more months. Even though the virus is probably long gone (my symptoms of infection - fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, fever and chills - all cleared up a few weeks ago), when the pericardium was infected its surfaces became rough. Every time my heart beats, the layers of the pericardium rub against each other: because they are rough, they irritate each other. This self-perpetuating irritation can take a long time to clear up. He would be worried and do more tests if I got worse, but just being sick for many weeks is normal.

He also commented on how cool my heart had sounded when it had the "rub" sound. He'd had his nurse listen to it because it was so interesting. I had asked to listen to it also, and I agree it was pretty cool sounding. I'm glad it's gone, though. I left his office feeling reassured. And after ten days of wheat-free obviously not helping anything, I had a sandwich from Quiznos for dinner. Yum.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Blog traffic

One of the interesting things about having a blog is following the traffic to it. Some is encouraging to see, some not so much.

A majority of my hits are from search engines. Many, I see their search terms and realize there is no way my blog was useful to them. Some, I hope my writing was helpful. Once, I got a hit for "Ovusoft bully" (yikes!). I've also had one hit from an unsavory search.

A few of those who view this blog are people I know, who come to see what I've written. That's the funnest part of writing here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pondering the economy

Last weekend, we drove to Chicago for a family get-together. On the way, we drove past the office building where the partner used to work: it had a "for lease" sign on it. Apparently the company went bankrupt over a year ago, a victim of the housing market turmoil.

We moved here for my job, something I've had mixed emotions about. It turns out our move was good for the partner's career as well.

It's nice to have the additional confirmation that we made the right decision. But discovering that a job we thought was secure has disappeared makes me wonder about our current positions, too.

Fall colors

My community has a lot of burning bushes - shrubs with leaves that turn red in the fall. This year I keep seeing bushes all over with this beautiful dark hue on their leaves. They've held the leaves for many weeks after they turned color, too; I've been just amazed as how great they look.

I commented on this to a member in the Bible study I go to. He said it was appropriate: after finishing our reading of Genesis, we've just started studying the book of Exodus.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wheat awareness

I'm beginning to suspect that my illness the past several weeks is a manifestation of Celiac disease - where eating wheat makes a person's immune system go haywire. It's a genetic disease, and my sister has it, which puts me at high risk.

The test would be to see if I get better when I stop eating wheat. This experiment has been complicated by a few recent incidents:

  • Fixing myself peanut butter toast with flax seeds for breakfast (mmm). Sitting down to eat it and realizing toast has wheat in it. I need to eat something in time to leave for work, so I eat the toast anyway.
  • Coming home from work and cutting myself a big piece of the brownies my partner baked. Eating three quarters of the brownie, then realizing brownies have wheat in them. I put the unfinished bit back into the pan; when the partner got home he asked if mice had been after the brownies.
  • Grabbing a handful of Reese's miniature cups and Kit-Kats for dessert after dinner. Eating the Reese's first because I like the Kit-Kats better and want to savor them. Reach for the Kit-Kat, and notice the wrapper says, "Contains wheat, milk, and soy ingredients." Put it down in grave disappointment.

  • I think I'm making progress in wheat awareness, though.

    My plan is to have minimal wheat intake for two weeks; then, if I'm better, eat a bunch of wheat-containing products and see if I get sick again. I hope it works so that my symptoms go away. I hope it doesn't work because I would really, really miss crackers and sandwiches and spaghetti and everything else I'll have to forego forever if this turns out to be the culprit.

    Sunday, November 2, 2008

    Internet and DST

    This summer, I decided to try making sundown Friday to sundown Saturday a time to take a break from internet. I have been pleased with how this has helped my weekend routine (which was what I was hoping for) and surprised at how it has helped keep me going to bed at a reasonable hour on Friday nights.

    On summer Fridays, the sun was up when we went to synagogue, and when we came home it had set. Worship services were a very clear dividing line for when I was going to stay off my computer. Just recently, though, the sun has been going down slightly before services. Now with Daylight Saving Time over, it will be down significantly before we head out of the house on Friday nights.

    (As an unrelated aside, in my campaign against DST, a report came out a few days ago that DST causes heart attacks in the spring. It lowers the risk in the fall, but not nearly enough to make up for the spring deaths.)

    It will be more of a challenge to stick to my "internet fast" with the loss of my bright dividing line. And my Saturday routine will be a little different too, with less "no internet" time. I look forward to seeing how my experiment works out over this dark time of year.

    Saturday, November 1, 2008

    A long fall

    We had two nights last week where the temperature dropped below freezing. But it has warmed up, and today's weather was beautiful for working outside. Further, when I opened my garlic package, the planting instructions said it was actually best to plant after a light frost. I don't feel so bad for procrastinating now.

    In between my two naps, I helped the partner clear our lawn of leaves (into the ravine at the back of our property) and of a small truckload of brush (to the yard waste facility). In the evening, I dug a garden plot: about four feet by four feet. It rained last week but not recently, and the dirt was the perfect consistency for digging. This spring, my mother in law had accidentally bought some compost, and gave it to me; I worked that into the plot. I planted my garlic. I put mulch (leaves) over the plot like the planting instructions said to.

    I'm bothered that I felt so tired that I took two ninety-minute naps today; this three weeks plus is the longest I ever remember feeling under the weather. But I'm happy that I felt just fine doing yardwork, which would not have been the case even last week. And excited that I got the garlic planted, and that the instructions even say November is still a good time to plant. So overall, a very good fall day.