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Lousy Week, Great Sunday

Monday. Ugh.

This cold. Why do I have a cold in the middle of summer? But I shouldn't complain. At least it's not the flu.

Monday was rough, not gonna lie. In between blowing my nose and gulping DayQuil, I got lucky and sold a trombone to a young man and his Dad who came in looking for something that would last through college. I was happy when they settled on the only Bach 42 in the store...that's the trombone I play, too :)

I actually got a lot done over the course of the day, it was just done in this haze of snot and pain. I was supposed to start my practice/workout regimen today, but was just feeling so awful, I decided one more day of rest wouldn't hurt. Traffic was blessedly light and I got home in time to eat a good dinner. But the rest of the night was spent losing my temper. I got a "past due" notice from my local PA tax department, for taxes due back in 2014. And it wasn't a small amount either. And right next to it in the mailbox was a notice that my taxes STILL haven't been filed for PA this year! Fees and fines, left and right. So then I got to be the "bad guy" and email and call my tax preparer to ask what the heck is going on, find out why my taxes for this year are not filed, and demand an appointment to discuss this stuff.

What a great night! Happy Monday!!

The rest of the week was not much better. At one point I found out that I'd priced a trombone too low, and while my boss just corrected me and moved on with his life, that's the kind of mistake that I really hate to make: one that costs my employer money. BAC Music is still small and trying to grow. Every dollar counts. I went back online to every market where I'd posted the ad, and changed the price, and added a disclaimer to apologize and explain why I'd changed it. Of course some people were not happy, but I'd rather have it right. Hopefully it won't happen again.

This week my boss implemented a new "tracking system" of sorts. We are all going to keep logs of our activities. As I said, BAC is still small and there's only one General Manager right now, and he can't be everywhere. By keeping a log, each of us will have notes about when someone within the company asked us to complete a task and what work we did. It seems a bit silly...the "Dear Diary" jokes have already started :) But actually I kind of like it. I don't want there to be any question about my work, and this way there won't be. Or at least there will be less.

(My boss asked if I was going to "blog about my blog", and the answer is yes, here it is, this one's for you Matt! LOL!!)

One good thing that happened this week was a quick visit from a BAC sponsored artist, Melissa Gardiner. She's a fantastic jazz trombonist, and was at the factory to pick up her new custom horn. Then she and Mike (BAC president) came by the retail store to look for mouthpieces and other accessories. Melissa test-played several mouthpieces, and I was awfully jealous of her sound. People who can play jazz are amazing. I am not one of those people. She sounded great and hopefully found a mouthpiece that works for her (though as she pointed out, getting a new horn and a new mouthpiece at the same time is often a bit much!)

Before leaving Mike insisted that I try Melissa's custom trombone. It was a small bore, with a yellow brass bell and a tri-metal slide, and bronzing or bronzed lacquer on the inside of the bell. The slide crook had a unique feature in that it was kind of oval-shaped, being a combination of the two most popular crook shapes, squared or rounded (I'm probably describing this poorly). I was surprised to see that the bell was not perfectly rounded at the edges, like you'd see with a production line horn. Definitely handmade. Definitely beautiful.

It felt pretty good to play, too. I wish I'd known this would be happening, I would have brought my Williams or the Minick to compare. The BAC custom horn felt open and powerful, with great control across the whole range. I especially liked the lower range...that could have been because the mouthpiece was a size 4! Anyway I enjoyed it. I couldn't play awesomely like Melissa did, but I played a little song and goofed around in the high and low registers. It was a good time.

Mike insisted that we have a picture before he and Melissa went to lunch. So here we are: Kristy (woodwind specialist), myself, and Ms. Gardiner. Yay!

If I'm being totally honest, after meeting Melissa I feel pretty inadequate as a trombonist. I have a lot of practicing to do. It hurt, in a personal sort of way, to realize that at the moment I'm not a musician. Again. But that's how it is sometimes. I'm going to have to suck it up and just be patient for the next gig, whatever it may be. For now I need to practice, and hopefully gain some local playing experience in the fall.

That was the highlight of the week, pretty much. I said all that about wanting to be accountable and saving the company money and whatnot, and yet at the end of the week I made just an awful stupid mistake. I came in a bit early to start preparing the store for the day. As I was putting my food in the fridge, I noticed that it wasn't very cold at all. The cold setting was at max. Looking at the freezer, I saw that it was full of ice from having never been defrosted. I thought, maybe if I can chip away some of this ice, it will help the fridge to run better. I grabbed a rubber mallet and started whacking away. Ice started coming off in big chunks. Everything was going well until I decided to use a screwdriver on the dense ice nearest the coolant coils. The screwdriver broke through the ice and hit a coolant coil, releasing a blast of pressurized gas right into my face.

I shrieked and dove away, trying not to breathe too much, not knowing what kind of gas that was. I unplugged the fridge and turned to Google. Oh dear. Looks like I've killed it.

In the next five minutes I learned all about vapor-compression refrigeration and what it meant to me, now that I'd destroyed the company fridge with a millimeter-wide puncture. Somewhere in there my boss walked in, and I had to explain myself, and go buy a new fridge. Luckily they're pretty cheap at Walmart. Still, I was embarrassed and upset, and it took most of the day to get over it. Thank goodness it was Friday. Still flustered, I skipped the gym and went home to try and chill out. (Chill out, get it? Haw haw.)

Saturday was pretty boring. It was blazing hot outside. I cleaned the whole apartment, and cooked a recipe that I found online. When shopping for Asian food last week I'd picked up a bag of "forbidden rice", and thought that this would be a good opportunity to try it!

It was so...purple! It stained the water purple, and my fingernails were purple for a while too. It stained all of the vegetables that I threw in with it, and turned the underside of the chicken black! But I have to admit, looks aside, it was pretty tasty! I used too much water (was afraid that this rice would behave differently) but it's still perfectly edible. Wonder if my teeth will be purple after a week of eating it!

Sunday was my first day volunteering at the Nature Center. I woke up pretty nervous. What would it be like? It being my first day, and me with zero training, I figured I'd probably be asked to do the menial stuff that needed doing, like washing towels or cleaning cages or doing dishes. Maybe I'd be answering the phone, or showing visitors where the bathroom was or something. I didn't think they'd let me work with the animals.

But to my surprise, as soon as I arrived, my mentor asked if I'd like to help with the raptors! Heck yes!!! First I observed her taking some of the birds outside to their tethers, a falcon and an owl. Other workers had already brought out the other birds, including two large vultures, several more owls, and a redtail hawk. All of these are kept in a large airy enclosure, and are tethered away from each other, each with their own space. Most of the birds can't fly due to injuries that they sustained, so they are kept as ambassador animals that people can view up close and interact with to learn about them and understand why it's important to keep them around. I watched as my mentor tied a falconer's knot at the base of each tether. I'll have to learn how to do that.

Our next job was to refresh the birds' water and replace the cage linings, which we did. The cages get deep cleaned too, but on specific days. After that it was time to prepare some food for the birds in the flight pen. And what do birds of prey eat? Rodents. There are bags and bags of frozen rats and mice at the nature center. My mentor took some thawed rats and measured them...each bird is supposed to receive a certain amount of meat. While she measured, I wrote down the weights in a log book. As she began gutting and chopping the rats, I felt nervous (and a little grossed out of course). I was worried that I might not be able to handle this part. The smell of internal organs, the dull crunch of a butcher knife crushing bones...well, that was enough for one day, I wasn't ready to make "meeces pieces" myself just yet. But I made myself watch the whole process. In my mind, I just kept saying to myself, "Suck it up! Your circus vet buddies do this all the time. Kate (my sister, an operating room nurse) sees worse stuff than this all the time. This is what needs to be done for carnivores to survive." Thinking those thoughts made it a lot easier. I think I'll be able to do this myself, next time.

When she was done chopping and measuring, I helped her to scoop the rat chunks into separate containers, one for each part of the flight pen. Then we went out there to begin feeding the birds. When we arrived my mentor realized she'd forgotten a scale she'd need to weigh some kestrels. While she went back inside to get it, I took some photos. The chopped mice in their containers, and a hungry owl staring at me through a crack in the door.

The animals in the flight pen are almost ready to be released. They are wild, they have their beaks and talons, and they do not like humans in their space. Right now they are in the last stages of being rehabilitated. Their injuries/illnesses are healed, and they must prove that they can hunt before they are released. This means that at some point, these animals will start getting LIVE mice and rats. In addition, we workers need to exercise them so that their flight muscles will be strong enough for them to hunt when they are released. "Exercising" the raptors involves one person walking toward the end of the enclosure where the bird is until it gets uncomfortable enough to fly away from them toward the other end of the enclosure. At that end, another worker steps in to force the bird to turn around midair and fly back to the other end of the room. We did this several times until the bird landed on the ground instead of the perch, indicating that it was tired. Exercise! I have to say, it was a pretty exhilerating (slightly scary) feeling to have a full-grown horned owl with a wingspan of 3-5ft(!!!) fly directly at you before deciding you aren't worth attacking and flying the other way.

For feeding, we not only had to leave the chopped mice in the room for the birds, we also had to collect any remains of the previous meals and any pellets that the birds had coughed up. I think I preferred the fresh chopped mice to the decayed chopped mice! We then weighed the remaining meat to determine how much the bird had consumed, and recorded it in the log books.

Then it was time to catch and weigh the kestrels. There were two baby/juvenile kestrels and one adult. The babies went first since they were easier to catch...supposedly. My mentor managed to corner one and tried to cover her with a pillowcase, but she missed, and the bird flew directly in front of me. I reached out and snagged her. My mentor was pretty surprised. "Nice catch!"

With the other two birds, the same thing happened. The second baby couldn't fly much so was fairly easy to catch as he tried to lift off. The adult was the trickiest...it took a while for us to get her down to where we could reach her. But eventually my mentor got her away from the ceiling with the pillowcase, and I was able to grab her as she flew in front of me just as the other bird had. We weighed them and let them go. And we didn't even get pooped on. Nice!

Back inside, I could tell that catching kestrels in mid-flight was not really a common thing because my mentor told anyone within hearing distance about what had happened, and everyone seemed really surprised, patting me on the back and saying "Great job!" and such. I didn't think it was a big deal, but my mentor explained that most people would flinch and become afraid when a bird flies at them, especially birds with talons. But the birds are almost never flying to attack, they're just afraid. And I was not afraid of kestrels, so I just, you know, grabbed them. It was a good feeling, to have done something helpful :) And birds are so beautiful. I was happy that I could catch all three without harming them.

After that we took a little break for water and a snack. While my mentor prepared syringes, I washed some dishes, then together we folded some towels. Towels are used constantly for swaddling and padding cages and cleanup, so the Center's washer is just running constantly. I might volunteer to bring soiled towels to my apartment complex to wash if it's not a sanitation issue. Next my mentor asked, "Want to give shots to some turtles?" Heck yes!!!!

This was something else that I was worried about. Would I be able to handle giving shots? I'm such a wuss about it when the needle is coming in my direction. We first selected our turtles, lining them up in some deep bins and putting a bit of wire shelving on top so they couldn't escape. Most of these turtles have cracked shells or are missing limbs from being run over by cars or attacked by predators.

We put a small amount of water in the bins, just enough to reach the bottom of each turtle's shell. Turtles apparently need to be "soaked", so we let them sit in the water for twenty minutes or so. While the turtles were soaking, we prepared some food for them: chopped earthworms, watermelon, and apples. When the soaking time was up, we emptied the water from each bin and gave each turtle some food. Most of the turtles dove right in, nomming real hard on the still-moving earthworm bits and chunks of watermelon. One or two of the turtles didn't seem as hungry, and we took note of this in the log.

Then it was time for shots. I watched as my mentor chose a turtle, measured out his medication, and injected it behind a front leg, in the thin skin between the shell and the leg. I watched as she did a second turtle. Then she asked if I was ready to try. I should mention that for everything I did today, I was first asked if I was comfortable doing it. No one is required to do anything that's going to make them feel bad or sick or faint or unethical or whatever. We're volunteers after all. I said that I'd like to try, and took the syringe. I gave the next three turtles their shots. Yay! Get better soon y'all!

That was pretty much the last thing to do that day. We put the turtles back in their bins, washed up, and fed two baby turtles that were in a small fish tank. They were fun to watch, chomping on bits of salmon and fighting with each other over the biggest bits! As I signed out and my mentor logged my activities, she said that she was very pleased with all I'd been able to do that day, and thought that within a few months I should be able to do many of these tasks by myself. Wow! I hope she's right!

I was very grateful that I got to do so much today. I learned a lot, and it made me eager to do more and try again. After today, I think I'm most interested in working with the raptors. I have yet to work with any snakes, or the room full of baby birds and squirrels, and that will probably be neat to do too. But I've never been good with babies :P And I just felt least nervous and most comfortable with the birds today. I'll keep that in mind for the future.

The center also has many mammals in the rehab center. Supposedly there are some 30-60 raccoons in a building out back! I also saw a small fox with mange, and heard other workers talking about possums and such. But I can't work with these unless I get a rabies shot. Eew. And since I still don't have health insurance, it may be a while before I get anywhere near the mammals. Oh well. I'll do what I can! It's worth mentioning that six volunteers were called in today, but only I showed up. I'll bet that happens a lot. So the more I can do for them, the better.

Back home, I cleaned up and scarfed down a late lunch (I was starving!), then called my Dad to wish him a happy Father's Day. He and my Mom and sister are going out for dinner tonight, not only to celebrate Father's Day, but also to celebrate my sister's successful tumor removal surgery, and a cancer-free diagnosis! YAY!!!!!!!!

This week was kind of a bummer for me, but it ended well. Maybe next week will be better!