2010 Mike & Gigi Firth Notes

2010-01-01 Rev. 2010-03-02, -04-15, -05-25, -12-22

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Gigi's Job Gigi's 60th Mike Picture Mike Does Census Paid Off Mortgage
50th Reunion & Travel Health Family Links Christmas  


On February 11, Dallas had a record 12" snow fall that piled up higher in some locations than shown here on the front yard where the fairly warm ground compacted it.  The garage roof had a thick layer on its unheated roof. But this pictures was tuned up to show packing snow - that makes nice snowballs and men - on Wikipedia, so a copy was put in here late in the year. 2010-12-11

Gigi's Job - Gigi has been very busy with tasks related to proofreading Braille, having gotten her NLS certificate last year. She has a contract with Region 20 of the Texas Education Service Center system to do textbooks and classroom materials and she is almost done with the 16 exercises involved in the Nemeth Code certification.  For the Region 20 work, the Braille file is sent to her electronically and she reads through it aloud while someone, Mike or one of several lady volunteers follows the print text for variations and mistakes.  While Romeo & Juliet in Grade 2 or Contracted Braille (a kind of short hand) was a pleasure with Gigi's good reading voice, the long hours spent on Texas! a junior high Texas history book are much less fun because it has been done in Grade 1 or ordinary Braille where every print character is matched to cell of up to six dots - like the listings of Braille you see in a dictionary.  And to help the inexperienced student follow the lines, it is all double spaced, which means a single print paragraph takes a whole Braille page of 11x11 inch paper.  And Gigi has to look at every cell for errors which means the reading sounds a lot like a second grader struggling through the words, which are much longer than they would be in contracted Braille where "ed", "ing" and "th" are single cell symbols and whole common words like "the" contract to one cell.  And the "attractive" layout for preteen students involves some choices to untangle the reading path when side columns and bottom figures enhance the text.
Nemeth Code is the special version of Braille used for mathematics and science work. If you recall either the look of textbooks as far as you went in math or the stuff that made you give up on going further a collection of symbols and specific physical arrangements will come to mind that are not on typewriter keyboards.  Nemeth uses a complicated set of rules and complex character combinations to convert super- and subscripts, integrals and square roots, and reaction arrows to a single line of "text" that can be read in a linear fashion by the fingers although the last two exercises involve laying out the cells so they line up and down, like when you do division and write the partial answer under the first part of the dividend.  A single error usually requires doing the page over again, like manual typing class. 2010-03-02

Gigi's 60th - Gigi's 60th birthday was a nice success - lots of gifts all with a count of 60 involved and a "surprise party" of 7-8 people near the end of a designated 60 hour event.  From midnight Thursday, Feb.25, her actual birthday to noon Saturday was the 60 hours, but the day started late because she was up working on her Nemeth code (above) and began with 60 M&M's for sustenance and 60's pennies for a cash reserve and "Happy Birthday Gigi!" in Braille, which takes exactly 60 dots (with capital signs), and ended with a quiet dinner as requested at Outback Steakhouse with a small round one-layer white cake with two large red roses on it.  By this point, Gigi knew something was going on on Saturday because, I didn't want the quiet dinner to become a point of anxiety over a lot of people showing up in the tradition of a get together at a nice restaurant as at previous birthdays for others or at dog parties. That stimulated the 60 hours connection.
 Friday began late also as Gigi worked in the very early a.m. with a bag of 60 dimes "since 60 pennies seems insufficient" and 60 Brach's Starlight Mints, her favorite candy "for sustenance and recovery." and ended with 60 Valentines heart shaped mints with a verbal claim of affection.  In the last mail before the party, an important letter arrived.
  Saturday was a very nice day, typical, supposedly, of a Dallas-almost-spring - at least the temperature was a normal 65 or so.  When everyone had finally assembled, from the first arrival of Suzanne Whalen to Bud and Annie Melton walking over,  I took on the role of Master of Ceremonies and pointed out what had happened so far and the half sheet cake I had sitting on the end of the table with 60 red and yellow rose buds on a marked out grid, again her favorite white cake, white frosting. Everyone agreed after tasting that Albertson's produced a very good cake.  Susanne hand carried Liz's gift of 60 nickels as she had to attend a retreat.  We reviewed the early arriving bag of 60 1950's style candies (Tootsie Rolls, bubble gum, etc.) from Dawn Bedard, the transcriber friend in Tennessee that came with a Louis Braille bi-centennial pin and a nice poem in Braille which was read. Lea Lohstreter brought in 60 containers of diet caffeine free Coca Cola, G's drink of choice. Going in the frig after display on arrival was a great pair of salmon fillets that came to 60 ounces and 6 large bulbs of garlic from Bud and Annie.  More M&M's, plus 60 small marshmallows and a booklet of DART coupons from Kiem Densmore and a Brailled card and coupon booklet from Jim Dawkins followed. Long time friend, Rhanda Hasley came with a unique cardboard gift box that looked like an old arch top lunchbox or mailbox that had 60 quarters rattling in it. I offered a Chinese checkers game which has 60 marbles and allowed us to play with "lose one marble a year until you have lost all your marbles" or "give a marble to a friend so they will never lose all their marbles." Glenda Goodwin, a co-worker of Gigi's during the almost two decades she worked at the IRS, gave her age in $1 bills plus $1 more "to grow on" as we used to say.  Suzanne Whalen, Gigi's very long time friend, finalized the gifts with a generous $60 gift in her name to The Seeing Eye, the letter finally arriving late on Friday before the party, as well as 60 $1 bills and a Brailled note of exactly 60 words saying she could never express her feelings in only 60 words.
And I was so busy being Master of Ceremonies with a room full of blind people, that I did not pick up the camera I made ready the night before.   2010-03-02

Mike at 67 and a third, without the normal glasses - cell phone photoMike Picture - I was looking some of the other pages and they include photos and I found this one on my cell phone from a month or so ago, so after some cleaning the background, post it here.  My hair is now longer than as I have ever worn it and in the same style as my father as my hairline recedes. 2010-03-18
Mike Does Census - Although I have done volunteer work since I retired from Elliott's, and earlier this year got paid for a certain kind of floor installation at a friend's house, I haven't looked for paid work until the repeated ads for working the Census got my attention.  I walked the 1970 Census as an Enumerator in Iowa City, where we collected every form, which included a long form for every 5th address with much detailed household information.  This year, as everyone should now, the forms are to be mailed in and I am working in a local office that is hiring 1500 people to cover about one-third of Dallas County and go out and check all the addresses from which a form has not been received - about 30% based on the 2000 Census.  This week, next, and the one after is the training of first the supervisors, then the crew leaders and then the enumerators.  Meanwhile, in the office we are preparing the thousands of maps needed to identify the places and coordinate finding addresses.  After preparing the notebooks and supplying the enumerators in two waves, thousands of census forms a day are expected for a couple of weeks then tapering off over several more weeks.    It is a bit amazing working in an office where the longest tenure employees date from last summer and everyone knows their job will end in few weeks or months.  Unlike any stereotype, people are working very hard to do a good job with experiences that they have not encountered before and once past will have little use in their lives, at least until ten years from now. 2004-04-15
2005-05-25 The Census job has been tiring and a source of overtime money, some for me, like 9 hours last week by working parts of 7 days including a full shift Saturday.  Some people have been working two shifts or a half a day, building up a lot of overtime and I was offered same and simply couldn't do it - pushing 8 hours or 9 or occasionally 10 is as far as I can go.  Some of the inexperience of the middle managers has shown in the blundering in assigning/asking people to work specific hours under the demands of upper levels to cover long hours to make up for blundering computer system.  And those long hours were angering because the computer system simply wasn't working when they said they were going to 24 hour service without maintenance interruptions, but we got in exactly 1 questionnaire from midnight to the time in the mid-morning when they took the system down.
All the information in the system is supposed to be on the system so we can track who has the Assignment Area binders and how many have been checked in, yet since we are able to put only 2 or 3 people on the PBOCS [Paper Based Operational Census System, or some such] system that holds the information and those people are dedicated to scanning in questionnaires because the hierarchy is judging LCO [Local Census Office] performance on the number scanned in.  Meanwhile we are manually counting bags of questionnaires to provide backup statistics of work in the field and manually reviewing questionnaires for errors to reduce the delays for the people doing the scanning.  Our best people, with good prep, are doing 140-160 questionnaires per "hour" which may be 65-70 minutes long, and our good people, including me, can do 100 in a true hour, with limited interruptions.  Some of our fill-in people do 40-60 but rarely get a full hour.  We are supposed to be increasing our percentages each day by the equivalent of about 10,000 questionnaires per day.  With constant use of our best people on 2-3 machines from 8 am to 11 pm including delays due to system delays and errors due to fatigue, we get in about 3300 per day.
Paid Off Mortgage - Today, Gigi and I went to the Lakewood Bank of America to pay off the mortgage on the house by wiring funds to Dovenmuehle Mortgage via the BoA in Chicago.  She has done all the assembling of the money, which mostly came from my Elliott’s 401K and my IRA CD’s, plus various savings accounts.  Working overtime at the Census also helped.  With the lack of inflation and the low interest rates to fight the depression/recession, the CD’s were paying about 0.85% even on $12K, so paying off the 9.8% mortgage, even with the taxes on the IRA will put us ahead for the year and the years ahead.  2010-05-25
50th Reunion & Travel - October found Gigi and I concluding a bunch of travel - Gigi more than I.   I went back to Crystal Lake in September for my 50th High School Reunion - which gets its own page with a bunch of pictures.  I took Amtrak up and rented a car in CL and went to look at some glass studios while I was in the area.  Got a detailed look at the house at 564 and the replacements for the house at 478 and a ride around the lake at the other changes - monster homes mostly.
Gigi has been working long hours as a paid Braille proofreader, much of it lately on the phone for up to 8 hours a day with people at Region 20 of the Texas education system instead of having volunteers in to hold book. 
Her travel began in July with a trip out to Phoenix for the national American Council of the Blind (ACB) convention.  In September she went to the state ACB convention in Houston and then flew off in October to the National Braille Association meeting in Raleigh NC for 3 days of lessons on Braille textbook rules.  Each of those included time with one of her bothers, George in Houston and Wayne near Raleigh.  Her nephew, Scott, who lives here, had copyheld for her proofreading and at George's suggestion, she turned him on to being a Braille transcriber. 
Health - For over six years I have maintained dressings on my right big toe as it seemed to slowly, but not completely, heal. Early in the time frame, I went through several doctors who seemed to advance the healing for a while only to see it cease.  Then this past summer, it seemed to heal over completely, only to build up fluid underneath and pop off the whole toughened layer of skin on the bottom of the toe.  Going back to one of the early doctors on my primary care doc's advice, x-rays suggested I had a bone spur that was applying pressure to the site that never healed.  So I had that taken off and a month later the vagaries that cut and related stuff are healing, including the bottom of the toe.
Family Links - My step mother, Virginia Firth-Meers is 92 and living in a high rise assisted living in Victoria BC.  When I talked to her at the end of October, she reported one of her activities was a sing-along with 35 people.  I wanted to make a connection with my step-sister, Sandi, who lives near her (older pictures), and after a mis-step, did so, talking to her husband who said Virginia looked a bit thin but was vigorous.  As part of my reunion activities, I was looking in an old journal and found a note about sailing Virginia's boat on the lake in mid-high school years.
In the other extension of family, Carolyn Fisher, my mother-in-law, is beyond vigorous at 81 in Alexandria, LA, working as an office manager while being active in the church instrumental group and community orchestra.  Her various children and grandchildren get back to see her and each other as mentioned above.
My sister Betty, continues to reside at the upper middle of the country, in Ely MN where she periodically reports on her political, religious, musical, craft, and health activities which seem a bit overwhelming to me as a solitary person, but seems to be doing well. 2010-11-10
My birthday and our wedding anniversary is Saturday, 11-13, my 68th, our 26th.
Christmas - Christmas week began for us with a nice afternoon at Glenda Goodwin's house after church services. Glenda has a new Seeing Eye dog, Layla, a yellow Labrador retriever..  This is her first although she is about my age.  So far, she is finding it more comfortable than her good use of a cane, posture, stress or something.  Her dog is very good and a great match. Glenda works at the IRS as Gigi used to do.
After the dinner all attending, the others being Suzanne Whalen and her friend Liz, went to the early evening concert at the First Baptist Church that Gigi attends.  With 6 grand pianos across the front of the sanctuary along with the church organ and a couple of electronic keyboards and about nine kinds of percussion, it is repeated annually with different content.  Up to 12 pianists manned (and womanned) the keyboards in groups that aged from about 10 through teens to young adults to a serious supply of seniors.  Among the songs were “Pomp and Circumstance,”, “The Little Drummer Boy”, “Parade of the Tin Soldiers”, “Christmas Waltzes”, “White Christmas” and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
“Deck the Halls”  More traditional carols included “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen”, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “O Holy Night”  I have always liked the very old “The Holly and the Ivy” and near the end we got the “Hallelujah” from Messiah.  The middle was enlivened with a driving Percussion Ensemble that included Marimba and Xylophone, keyboard and chimes and many other odd little instruments.  Many were arranged for the performance by participants including the finale labeled as "Encore (Chopsticks)" but which was hysterical in that a pompous opening dropped into Chopsticks and that segued into a few bars of Little Drummer Boy and that to White Christmas and back to Chopsticks to some Beethoven and back to Chopsticks. Must have had 30-40 segments of 25-30 tunes, all done with great energy by 12 pianists.  Built in was a stunt done a couple of times. where the person on the low end of the piano kept on playing up through the middle while the person on the high end gathered their music and moved down to the low end and took up that part.
Monday, Gigi and I went out to explore the newly opened Green Line from end to nearly end.  She had visited the southern section prior to opening because she volunteers with DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) on a handicapped users board and I had gone out to the northern part in the open house with free rides the Saturday before the line opened for regular use. Because free and some events at stations, trains were very crowded then.  Gigi and I rode south from downtown to the end, discussing platform arrangements and surroundings and then rode back through town to the third from last station where we ate a very nice meal at Babes Chicken on the square at downtown Carrolton.  Exploration had some negatives that were reported to DART, including bouncing around on one stretch of track, confusing stopping points and a final stop where the train was not positioned right so there was a drop off to an angled ramp instead of the promised level boarding.  But is was a good day overall.
We expect to go to Louisiana for part of the holidays.  Not taking the cat
Glenda is not the only one with a new Seeing Eye dog and Jim Dawkins who owns the truck in the picture below that I drive for him and get to use myself, went to the Eye on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and returned last Thursday in the short Retrains Only class that fits in that space.  First Timers stay a week longer.  His dog is named Balto, another German shepherd, but much lighter at 70 pounds than his previous dogs at over 100. Seems to be laid back, which is what Jim needs, and really cute with long hair especially on the face, where his previous dogs were short haired.  Jim also works at the IRS.
This montage (below) was taken in the early AM when I was out watching the total eclipse of the moon that occurred on the Winter Solstice at 1 to 3 am in our time zone.  A few clouds blew away leaving a good view of the reddish moon in the Earth light that is bent by the atmosphere.  I liked the feeling and inclusion of the tree and SUV.

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