Category Archives: education/enrichment/career

Could there possibly be an alternative?

Soooooo frustrated right now.

I do a little on-the-side consulting for my old company.  They have quarterly reports that need to be put together, and sometimes need a little extra help at crunch time.  I work from home, and make more per hour than I did as a full time employee.  The work is only very occasional, but it’s interesting enough to not be mind-numbing, and it provides me a nice little paycheck once in awhile.  It is, all in all, a nearly-perfect setup.

Except for the vendor that manages my payroll.  My old company has a policy of not making direct payments to contractors as much as they can; I guess it’s a situation ripe for fraud and embezzlement and whatnot.  So, if you are going to do contract work for them, even if you aren’t in a firm, you have to go through their sourcing firm, which gets a cut of your pay and manages your payroll.  Now, I negotiated it so that they upped my hourly pay such that I was still getting the rate to which we originally agreed, without feeling like I’m losing money to this sourcing firm, so that’s a good thing.  But seriously, for the money they’ve made off of me for basically printing a paycheck and a W2, I could stand a little better customer service.

First off, they do everything by email.  EVERYTHING.  Most of the time that’s fine, because their automatic emails that tell me my timecard was approved are clear and concise.

The problem is when I have a problem — which given my limited experience with this firm, has happened too much.  First, my direct deposit never got set up, as it turns out, because of a typo on the direct deposit form (my typo).  But — I never heard that they had a problem with the form.  I just started getting checks instead of direct deposits…. which I didn’t care much about anyway, because I only work about one week a quarter, so going to the bank every three months isn’t a huge burden.   And if you refuse direct deposit, you agree to pay a lost check fee of $35 if a check gets lost. 

And then a check got lost.  But I never refused direct deposit.  And I cannot even describe the hoops I’m being made to jump through to get paid for work I did three months ago, and not end up getting docked the stupid fee, and how it has been implied every way from Sunday that it is completely my fault that this happened.  I’m not saying I’m blameless, but a big part for this firm is the way they communicate problems.

It’s all by email.  And you know, if your email is anything like my email, you get a crapload of emails to sort through every day.  So, while the firm’s standard “we got your timecard” emails are clear and concise and are easily identifiable, the emails you get from them when there’s an issue are anything but.  Mainly, the problem is in how the emails appear in my inbox.  They don’t say the firm’s name in the sender information or the subject.  The sender is the name of the analyst who sent the email, so some random name I’ve never seen or heard before.  And the subject is to the effect of “RE: Claim #3X55QR9”.  If you see an email from a name you have never known to mean anything to you, with a cryptic subject line, well… if you’re anything like me, you think it’s spam.  BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT SPAM LOOKS LIKE.  They send these emails to you when you might be expecting them, like if you call to have a form sent to you, and they send them when you’re not expecting any sort of email from them at all, like, say, after you make a single typo on your direct deposit application and they need you to fix it.

This firm doesn’t seem to see this as a problem.  And when, today, I called to request that I not get emails when there are issues, the gal I’m talking to, ON THE PHONE, said “Well, then, how would we be able to let you know there’s an issue?”  Yeah, you see how you’re talking into that gadget on your head?  It’s useful for myriad applications.

So anyway, *I* have to go and fax them about three different forms, and they HAVE to be faxed.  Can’t email them, which I think is pretty ironic.  And I don’t have a fax machine.  So I have to use the stupid annoying free fax online applications, or walk over to my in-laws’ and use their fax machine. 

Argh.  Argh argh argh.

Why I love our library

I live in an area where the property taxes are just crazy high.  However, there are perks.  One, our school district is awesome.  Two, our library is amazing.

The children’s section is just really cool.  There are about, as far as I can count, like six or seven children’s librarians, and they are all both wicked cool and enthusiastic about being librarians, and they really know their stuff.  I can ask them about some random book from a piece of the plot I remembered from my childhood and they can tell me the book off the top of their head, the author, and where to find it.  In the half-dozen similar questions I’ve asked, I’ve not once had them reference a computer to tell me the answer.

The place in general is pretty big for being one of two libraries in a town of about 50,000 people.  In gearing up for planning, digging, and planting my veggie garden, combined with a bit of winter blahs, I read about eight different veggie gardening books and barely put a dent into the section.  I wish their photography section had a bit more of a selection, especially in the how-to area, and especially given the radical transformation from film to digital that has happened fairly recently.  I think I’ll mention that to someone.

They have a completely kick-ass online presence.  Not only can you search and reserve books and A/V stuff through their website, you can also download PDF versions of a ton of books (I’m currently reading Darkly Dreaming Dexter – upon which the series “Dexter” is based – this way) — basically turning my laptop into a slightly less portable Kindle, and for a lot less coin, given when I’m done reading my laptop is still a laptop and a Kindle is a useless piece of electronics.   They even audiobooks to load to your iPod (or other mp3 player).  Of course, the PDF books and audiobooks are no extra charge, all part of the services you get when you sign up for a library card.  On the website, you can see what you have checked out online, and renew it if the need arises (like it’s 10 minutes before closing time on the day your stuff was due back).  They even send out email reminders a couple days before something’s due to give you a heads-up, which has saved my butt a number of times.

The totally neatest part about the library, though, is the A/V department.  Not only do they have a great selection of movies you can borrow on DVD, but they’ve already amassed a decent Blu-ray selection (and being the recent recipients of a Blu-ray player for Christmas, we are all a-tizzy about borrowing Blu-rays).  They have a huge selection of kids’ DVDs, so the kids get new movies (one apiece) every week.  They even have a pretty good variety of video games, so I’ve sampled a few different Wii games that way.  I really don’t understand how Blockbuster stays in business with this library around.  The library’s even open until 9:00 most days of the week, and they actually have Sunday hours, too, when it’s not summertime.

The library still doesn’t totally assuage the pain of a $1,200 a month tax bill, but it is a spoonful of sugar.

And it definitely brings up a question — is my library that far ahead of the game?  I want to think so — the library in our own town in New Jersey didn’t have nearly the same level of resources.  How does your library compare?  And if you don’t know…. you should find out.  😉

The joy of a new camera

As I mentioned in passing recently, I’ve sort of officially started my own photography business.  I’m going to try to get some gigs shooting weddings, and portraits, and see which I like better, and which I feel I’m better at.  As such, it served as a great excuse to look into getting a second camera.  I’d hate to be shooting a wedding and not have a backup.

I weighed my options and decided to get a Nikon D200.  This is a camera that has recently been discontinued for the slightly snazzier D300.  The D300 adds a couple million megapixels which, when it comes to the effective maximum size of a print, is not a huge difference.  There’s a couple features I would have liked, such as the D300’s self-cleaning sensor and its 51-area autofocus awesomeness, but beyond that, it’s much the same camera as a D200 — and since I could score a D200 (new) on eBay at half the going price of a D300, and since I’m not quite sure where this whole photography business will end up, the D200 just made a lot of sense.  If the business is a booming success I can justify a D300 (or its successor) in the future, or even the D700 (the D300 with a full-frame sensor) or even a D3 (drool).  But for now, this is what works.

So I got the camera last week, and while it’s not like the best thing since sliced bread compared to my D70s, it ain’t too shabby.  I went outside with the kids a few days ago and took these pictures of Lane and Jake:

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I wasn’t shooting with great available light, and the lens I had on the camera wasn’t very fast, but still the pictures are quite nice, with good contrast and color balance for the evening light that was available.  And the kids are just cute, so that helps.  Jake with his impy little smile, and Lane with those eyes, that grin, that lovely blonde hair, with highlights most women would pay good money to duplicate.  But I digress.

It was handy I had the new camera around to play with and learn the ropes and settings because this morning I was cajoled to take a couple new pictures of Lane.  Like these:

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I used the on-camera flash, which I am normally loathe to do, but it was essential in this case to capture detail to really tell the story.  Wouldn’t you agree?  I was also pleased with the detail it picked up in a different sort of composition:

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That’s my bathroom sink.  It’s funny.  When we all went to bed, there wasn’t any hair in it.  Yet, the pictures above weren’t taken long after Lane joined us in our bedroom in the morning, as she always does if we don’t wake up before her. It’s a weird discrepancy we still have not quite figured out.

So we went on with our day, which included an unplanned trip to the mall where they have a kids’ haircutting place.  As in, grown-ups cut kids’ hair, which in a perfect world is how it would be all the time.  And we bought Lane some headbands, and then dropped her off at school.

When we got home, I decided to test out the new camera one more time, again, playing with the on-camera flash.  The detail is quite illustrative.

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I really look forward to using this camera for a long time.  Like, perhaps, in a few months when Lane has real bangs and not just pixie fringe.  And maybe a couple years from now when her hair is all caught up in length again, like it very nearly was before she took such decisive action.

Alas, the new toy does have its limits.  It can’t go back in time to capture my shock, or tears, and it can’t show how heavy my heart is to see my gorgeous little girl looking so weird.

Say Cheese!

These days I’ve been passing a little time working in a photo studio.  It’s a fun job and I work with cool people who are mostly much younger than I am.  I’ve learned some neat stuff about portraiture, and a bit more about Photoshop, both which will serve me well as I embark on starting my own photography business.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’ve sort of had a rant building up, and working today I had one family who refreshed the rant in my brain.  They were otherwise very lovely people, a family of four.  Dad, Mom, and two kids — a boy of about 13 (and all the requisite fun and angst that comes with that age) and a daughter of about eight or nine, who was seven different ways of adorable and missing her two front teeth.  The parents were obsessed – OBSESSED – with getting these kids to smile just the absolute perfect way that they wanted them to.  But of course, the 13 year-old was, well, a 13 year-old, and the daughter was obviously self-conscious about her gappage.

These parents were militant crazy about it.  Which I don’t necessarily begrudge them — portraits at my studio are not cheap, and I know they, as every parent that comes through, wants to leave with pictures they can display and show off and that truly capture how beautiful their family is.

Luckily, I and the other photographers I work with are pretty good at pulling that off.  For babies, we know the sounds that get their attention, and that jumping up and down is almost always a surefire way to get a few smiles.  For toddlers and kids through about seven, pretending to tickle their parents is like smile gravy — and the parents always love to play along.  Shit, the parents would donate a kidney if it meant their kid would smile.  Tweens and teens nearly always can talk about video games, or the last movie they saw, and once they relax and realize I’m not as dorky as their parents are, they are usually eager to smile for me.  (Even though, yes, I’m a parent myself and in a handful of years I’ll be reduced to complete dork in my kids’ eyes.) Older kids want to be treated respectfully, and they respond beautifully to it most of the time.  The point is, there are lots of ways to get a kid, nearly any kid, to smile for a picture.  Sometimes it’s being goofy, sometimes it’s building trust, sometimes it’s being chatty, and often it’s a combination of all that and more.

But there are things that definitely, most assuredly, do not work.  Yelling at your kids to smile will never get them to smile the way you want them to.  Telling them that’s it, we are NOT going to Chuck E. Cheese after the pictures will not get them to smile at all.  Threatening them with grounding will not get them to smile, for sure.

So, here’s a bit of advice for parents.  Once your kids are old enough to follow directions, try to relax a little.  If you let your kids relax and have a little fun, your pictures will turn out great.  If you relax and have a little fun, too, they’ll turn out even better.   Try your best not to get frustrated — or at least, not to show your frustration.  It will unsettle the more resilient kids and irreversibly stress out the more sensitive ones.

Then…. there’s the other side of the coin.  The parents of the babies.  Most of the time, they hover and coo and apologize profusely when their baby isn’t the Gerber baby 100% of the time.  We love these parents.  They keep their babies happy, and safe, and they are ten shades of thrilled when their beautiful baby makes us look like photography geniuses.

Of course, not every parent is as easy to work with.  There’s the moms that decide feeding their baby after the shoot is wiser than feeding him before the shoot.  There’s the parents that don’t consider naptimes when they schedule their shoot and, halfway though, say something like “he’s usually so happy, he must be tired, usually he’s napping right now.”  And then, there’s the glaring example of stellar parenting we witnessed recently:  a couple came in with their baby, got her set up for the shoot, and then DISAPPEARED FOR A HALF HOUR.  Without a word, they left and went to get lattes and left their baby in the hands of people they’d never met before.  The photographer started taking pictures, turned around to ask them something, and they were gone.  (The shoot did not continue any further.)

For the two-and-under set, the hints I can offer are simple.  Bring in a child who’s been fed (or even bring snacks with you – I’ve had more than one parent feed their kids Cheerios or Gerber puffs in between pictures).   Make sure your baby isn’t tired or sick.  Then once the shoot begins, pull out all the little tricks to get your baby to smile.

Oh, and if you really want a latte, get it ahead of time.

I hate thinking of posting titles

Even when I know exactly what I’m going to type out, the clever words rarely come for a title.  And if I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to type, well, forget it.

I’ve been doing a lot of pondering of late.  Frank and I have both been wondering if we want to have another baby.  By the time Lane was Jake’s age, I was already pregnant with Jake, after making the deliberate decision to have my IUD removed.  Frank was on board, and we were excited.  These days, the idea of trying to get pregnant has us both looking for the nearest fallout shelter.  Mostly, I waffle on the idea.  I love the idea of having another baby, but am generally freaked out by the reality of adding another body to the madness.   It probably doesn’t help that Lane’s never been the easiest kid on the block, and Jake’s steadily gearing up for the terrible twos (mostly by finding writing implements and leaving his mark on any inappropriate surface at his eye level).  Lane is so interested in babies right now, and breastfeeding, and playing Mommy to her baby dolls, and I know she would be beyond the moon over a new, real baby.  But that’s really little justification for conception.  🙂

And even though the idea of pregnancy sends me into heart palpitations right now, who knows how I’ll feel a couple years, or months, or even weeks from now.  For a long time after Lane was born I couldn’t imagine adding another child to our family.  I just couldn’t even create the mental pictures of what it would be like, of how I could love that baby as much, of why would I want to mess with the perfection that is my beautiful daughter?!?  But then one day, I could.  And a few months later I was pregnant with Jake, and he’s just completely awesome.  So, it will probably happen.  Maybe once Lane starts kindergarten in the fall and the quiet:chaos ratio improves a bit in my favor.

The other big thought-provoking subject for me is what I’m going to be when I grow up.  I’ve toyed with the idea of starting my own photography business to do portraits, or to becoming a birth & postpartum doula, but both require the whole working-for-myself thing, and at this point of my life I’m not feeling the energy to be super entrepreneurial.  I also keep coming back to the idea of going to school to become an RN.  There are loads of programs around for people who already have college degrees; you go to school for about 15 months, give or take a couple depending on the program, and you have another bachelor’s degree and you’re an RN (once you take the certification exam, of course).  And there are a number of schools with programs in reasonable driving distance.  And, I definitely find myself leaning toward state schools for the affordability factor, which reduces my choices to Brooklyn or Binghamton.  Or Long Island… but who in their right mind wants to go to Long Island every day?  There’s also a private college only a few miles away with a program, which would certainly lend itself best to the juggling act that being in school full time would require.

So no decisions there, but I may get started on those prereqs in the meantime at the local community college.  If nothing else, I love taking classes, and can you THINK of a cooler way to spend your time than by taking Anatomy and Physiology I?