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September 2012 - Posts - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

September 2012 - Posts

  • Running Update #17: Hoo Boy, Have I Got a Challenge Ahead of Me Edition

     

    Here it is, officially fall, and I have not yet cracked the 300 mile mark. As of September 28, I have run 295 miles total for the year.

    Sigh.

    Without further ado, here are my miles for September:

    19 miles total, including four 4 mile runs and one 3 miler.

    There are, however, still two days left in September, and I hope to do some running over the weekend.

    For the rest of the year--and believe it or not, there are only 13 weeks left in 2012--I will have to run 16 miles each week in order to meet my goal and avoid sending my hard-earned money to a hateful charity. It's not going to be easy, but darn it, I'm going to do it.

  • Ask and Ye Shall Receive(ish)

     

    "Dad, can I have some soda? Please?"

     

    One of the unintended positive consequences of Sallie Mae taking over our Upromise credit card from Bank of America (other than not having to deal with Bank of America anymore) is that it has forced me to go through all of our automatic monthly payments that we put on our credit card and alert them to the fact that we now have a new one.

    Well, that didn't feel so positive while I was doing it, particularly considering the fact that I never seem to have enough time to do anything and figuring out just who I'm paying automatically via credit card each month and then contacting them is not a zippy process. However, it did force me to do something I've been putting off for a couple of months:

    Call Comcast.

    For those of you not in the grip of the Entertainment and Connectivity Branch of the Evil Empire, Comcast is a cable/internet and phone provider. Comcast often seems to be the only (or only feasible) option in any particular market, and I recall my parents' gripes with this particular service provider back when we got internet through the phone company and cable had naught to do with it. (That was waaaay back in the day, when you had to listen to the equivalent of a telephone genteely screaming before you could sign on to AOL. And everything was kerosene powered).

    Now, to be fair to Comcast, despite my incredible groan of protest when we arrived in Lafayette two years ago and realized that they were (basically) the only game in town, they have provided us with fairly decent customer service. The problem is their prices.

    We signed up for internet, cable, and phone (because I'm old school and man do I love me a landline) originally, because internet and phone only was actually more expensive than all three. They offered us the fantastic introductory rate of $99 per month. That didn't sound particularly fantastic to me, but I agreed.

    After a year, apparently the price went up by $15. Since it was on automatic payment through our credit card, I was spared the monthly fist-shaking at the sky while shouting "COMCAST!!!" in my best William Shatner cursing Ricardo Montalban impression. I simply shook my head at the price, rather than my fist, since I didn't have to actually write a check each month. (And this, folks, is why they want you to get on automatic payments.)

    Then my monthly head shaking became much more pronounced. In August of this year, I noticed that we were charged $161 for the privilege of being connected with the greater world. Now, part of that charge was due to the young man's purchase of a movie that should not have been so easy for a 2-year-old to find and order when even his parents don't know where that menu is on OnDemand. But a single film purchase should not be enough to change our bill from around $130 per month (because of course there are always modem rentals, taxes, and fees added to each month's bill) to $161.

    I had thought about calling Comcast back in August, but I decided against it because I really like the way my forehead looks without an enormous wall-shaped dent in it. (Yet another reason for the push for automatic payments. I could actually make this decision with a straight face since I was paying automatically. If I'd been paying my bill via check every month, my forehead and the wall would have had to meet long before I even got customer service on the phone.)

    In any case, since I had to call Comcast anyway in order to change our automatic payment, I thought I'd ask them what the dealy-o was with our higher bill.

    Apparently, that $99-per-month price was offered for one year. After the first year, the price went up to $114 per month. And then, after the second year was over, it went up to $139.95 per month. I expressed dismay at this price and I was transferred to someone else.

    I told the someone else that I needed to lower that price, because it was breathtaking in its way-too-bigness. I mentioned that I would be happy to drop cable in order to lower our bill.

    "OR!" the customer service representative said, "OR! You could keep cable, get HBO and Showtime for three months, and only pay $124.95 per month."

    I told him that was fine, as long as I didn't have to cancel the premium channels myself once the three months were over. He agreed, and I hung up feeling somewhat better about my relationship with Comcast.

    Yes, they may still hold all the cards, considering they control the sweet sweet internet connectivity that I can quit any old time I want.

    Yes, they may have only reduced my bill by a paltry amount.

    Yes, they may have given me a new potential addiction with the offer of movie channels.

    Yes, I'm probably still going to have to cancel HBO and Showtime myself because I've never known any company to do anything that helpful when you haven't asked for the service in the first place.

    BUT, and this is a big but, I'm at least ahead of all the suckers who didn't ask for a discount out there. That means me and Comcast are almost BFFs.

  • Appearances Can Be Deceiving

     

    Photo of a man who is not really playing a tuba courtesy of infrogmation

     

    Believe it or not, I was a mallrat in my teens. There was not a great number of activities available for the average grunge-listening, flannel-donning, faux-Doc Martens-because-I-couldn't-afford-the-real-deal-wearing teenager in the suburbs of Baltimore in the 90s. So, I went the mall for much of the 90s.

    Although I was a good kid, I did find that sales clerks would often discourage myself and my friends from hanging around their stores. Nothing on the level of what happened to Julia Roberts on Rodeo Drive, but there was some definite vibes that my friends and I were not welcome at the local Saks Fifth Avenue, where, admittedly, we were generally playing the game entitled Whoever Finds the Ugliest and Most Expensive Article of Clothing Wins.

    What's somewhat odd about the shooing of teenagers away from their natural habitat is the fact that generally I had some cash burning a hole in my pocket when I went malling in high school, as do most teenage mallrats.

    About 10 years after my prime mall-visiting age, I was earning my master's degree in English education at OSU and student teaching at a high school. I seem to have a bit of a baby face, so during my stint of student teaching, I was consistently having 16 year olds turn to me (and I was 27 at the time, mind you) and ask "are you a new student?" (I always wanted to snap back "I have 10 years on you, kid. And I actually remember when Tupac was still alive.")

    To make a long story short, I worked very hard to look professional and separate myself from the young'uns. I wore my hair in a chignon; I wore suits; I actually ironed my blouses in the morning; I forced my aching feet into high heels; I carried a briefcase; I even wore makeup for love of Pete! Despite all of this, I still had people mistake me for a high school student on occasion. (I know I'll miss that at some point, but even six years afterwards I'm still rather frustrated by it. I had a couple of gray hairs, for heaven's sake!)

    Toward the end of my student teaching stint, I visited the local mall to buy a present for my mentor teacher right after school ended one day. I got him a coffee thermos that I had engraved with our school's name and mascot. It took about an hour for the engraving to be done, so I just wandered the mall while I waited--something I hadn't done for quite some time.

    I was surprised and horrified to find that sales clerks were nearly tripping me in order to get a moment of my time. The first two times it happened (by a perfume spritzer and a gaming store employee), I assumed it was just a fluke. By the time I had gone the length of the mall, I realized that I definitely was being singled out. Clearly, my grown up professional attire worked on mall store employees, even if it didn't seem to make a dent in the assumptions of my students.

    What was really funny about this was that my 10 weeks of student teaching was probably the poorest I've ever been. I had had to give up my part time job while I was student teaching, since the teaching was pretty all-consuming, and of course student teachers are not only not paid for their work, they are themselves paying for the privilege. I was living on next-to-nothing per week, just hoping what I had saved up would get me through to the point where I could take on paid employment again. The gift I was purchasing for my mentor teacher was taking a pretty big bite out of my budget, but it was a gesture I truly wanted to make.

    Perhaps if I had changed into some Abercrombie or Forever 21 clothes, let my hair down, and texted on my cell phone throughout my mall walk, I would have been left in peace. Which just goes to show--at least at the mall, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

  • If I Were Queen of the World, the Customer Service Would Be Better

     

    Photo of a deceptively inviting bank courtesy of Mark Holloway of Beatty, Nevada

     

    J and I have a Bank of America credit card. This was not a voluntary decision. We got the Upromise credit card, so that our purchases could help put money away for LO's future education. At the time that we signed up for the card, Upromise was maintained by a different large bank that we generally would not choose to do business with, the name of which I cannot remember. Then, Bank of America took over Upromise, J and I heaved an enormous sigh of defeat, and we have been using their card ever since.

    Several weeks ago, I was informed that Bank of America would be relinquishing the Upromise program yet again to another bank whose name escapes me. We would be receiving a new card in the mail sometime this fall and would have to get used to new banking practices. After the information flowed into my brain (and then straight back out again, evidently), I think kind of forgot about it.

    Saturday, I signed onto the Bank of America site in order to send them some money.

    The site told me that there was no longer an account for my ID information.

    I was expecting this to happen eventually, but it seemed a touch precipitate considering the fact that we had not a) received the new card from the new bank whose name escapes me, or b) received any welcome information from said bank.

    Even though I thought I knew what was going on, I decided to call Bank of America anyway. The young man who answered my query emitted a couple of "hmmms" and told me that I still had a card and an account in good standing. "You should wait a bit and try signing in to your account again," he said. "It should work."

    I pointed out that the fact that it should work did not alter the fact that it was not working. That, in fact, was why I had called him.

    The young man "hmmmed" for a few more moments and then put me on hold. When he came back, he said that my account was now handled by a different department, and that he would transfer me there.

    I interrupted him to ask if this had anything to do with the fact that Upromise had been sold. He said yes but made absolutely no elaboration.

    At this point, I was wondering if I (of the faulty memory) was still better informed than the customer service agent with the magic computer of knowledge in front of him.

    Glad to be rid of me, the young man transferred my call before I had a chance to ask him any more difficult questions. The phone at the new department, the name of which the young man had neglected to tell me, rang for a few minutes before a recorded voice told me I had reached Upromise and that I should call back during normal business hours.

     

    In unrelated news, the primal scream of rage that frightened small children and wild animals throughout the midwest on Saturday has been traced back to its source.

     

    Strangely enough, Saturday's mail included a welcome letter and new credit card from the new bank. I'm holding off on calling them, however. I'd like to get my blood pressure back to normal first.

  • On Hobbies

    George Carlin once said "I don't have hobbies; hobbies cost money. Interests are quite free."

    Unfortunately, ours is a house plagued with hobbies.

    I quilt. Not only is quilting an expensive hobby, it's also time consuming. Basically, for three times the price and a decade-long commitment, you can have the same blanket you could buy in the store, except not as well made.

    Like this quilt, for example. I started it in January of 1999. The original purchase of cloth for it cost $75--a figure that stuck in my mind because I was a poor college student at the time and found myself wondering how many blankets $75 would buy me. I can't tell you exactly how much the quilt cost over the years, because I didn't keep a record of purchases, but let's just say that $75 was just the very tip of the iceberg.

    I finished this quilt on July 5, 2010.

    That's right, it took me 11 years.

    (The best part of this story is the fact that I got the pattern from a book called Quilts in a Weekend.)

    I am currently still working on the baby quilt for LO, and I hope to have the thing done before he goes off to college in another 16 years. I also have completely failed to finish the quilt I'm making for my niece, which I had hoped to have done before she was born on March 25. Perhaps she'll have it in time for her first Hannukah. Or her seventh.

    And then, of course, there's the wedding quilt that I still owe to my sister, mother of said niece. Tracie got married in 2009. I haven't even started the quilt. (Although, to be fair, I did tell her at the time of her marriage that she shouldn't expect her quilt before her fifth anniversary. I still have a year and a half.)

    Even with this backlog of sewing work to take care of, I still find myself paging through quilting magazines and books, drooling over beautiful patterns.

    As much as I love doing the quilting, I sometimes wonder if, like Michael Kanin (even though I totally thought it was Dorothy Parker who said this), that I don't like to quilt, I like to have quilted. There is a great sense of satisfaction imagining my grandchildren fighting tooth and nail over who gets to keep the above quilt. (Because we all want to imagine our loved ones fighting over our stuff. I even have an extended fantasy of one of my descendents taking the quilt to Antiques Roadshow, because of course that will still be a thing in 100 years, and pointing out the details of my hand-quilting: "You see here, great-great-Grandma Emily sewed a Volkswagen Beetle into the pattern.")

    Ultimately, I know that my hobby does bring me a great deal of joy, even if the time commitment and finances don't exactly make sense.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go do some sewing.*

     

    *By sewing, I mean do a crossword while watching a Friends rerun, which is a big part of the reason for my molasses-like progress on the backlog of quilts.

  • Things You Could Buy If You Didn't Have Children

     

    A recent government study concluded that today's kids will cost $235,000 to raise from birth to age 18.

    No, they were not including college in that price tag, although you get a bit of a price break on second, third, and etc children.

    Let's stop and think about that figure for a moment.

     

    $235,000.

     

    If you're having a bad day wherein the little darling won't nap and has painted the cat with hummus, it might be an interesting intellectual exercise to think about what you could have bought instead of having a kid:

    1. A Ferrari.

    2. A fairly nice house in Columbus, Ohio.

    3. A 750-square foot starter home in Baltimore, MD.

    4. A shoe box with a toilet and a hot plate in New York City.

    5. A private airplane.

    6. A political campaign for mayor in a relatively small city.

    7. A really expensive pony.

    8. 20 years of boarding and care for said really expensive pony. (No, $235,000 will not buy you both.)

    9. A small yacht.

    10. A college degree in about 18 years.

    On second thought, the hummus-painting non-napper might be a relative bargain. None of these things will take care of you (or, alternatively, choose your nursing home) in your old age.

    Bummer about the cost of college, though.

  • Budgets Make a Great Bad Guy

     

    There was a cheerful knock at the door while I was writing this afternoon. I was prepared to bite the head off of anyone other than the mailman, since I had finally gotten into the "groove," and did not want to lose my train of thought.

    Standing on my porch was a personable and well(ish)-dressed young man. (You could see the cartoon character on his undershirt through his white button-down, which somewhat took away from the overall look of professionalism.) I immediately knew that he was either soliciting or selling, and I prepared to stop him before he got started.

    As a matter of fact, I stink at stopping door-to-door solicitors/salespeople before they start. I hate being rude, and I think they can smell that on me. My tendency of avoiding rudeness is something that they take advantage of every time.

    This young man started his spiel about how he was from New Orleans and had lost his home in the recent hurricane. He spoke for some time about how he left Louisiana with nothing but his daughter and his sister and the clothes on their collective backs. Now he was trying to start over with a program called Self Starter, and he even handed me an official looking sheet that explained what the program was and stated that he could take no donations.

    I was ready to tell him "Thank you, but no way," when he threw me a curve ball. He asked me what my first job was and what advice I could give him. When I mentioned that I'd lived in Baltimore, he started teasing me about being a gang banger. Without intending to, I found myself really liking this young man.

    He eventually got around to his pitch. Would I buy some magazines from him?

    In the past, I would have hemmed and hawed and eventually said no but felt weird about it. I don't give money to anyone going door-to-door, because if I really wanted a magazine subscription that badly, I would have sought him out myself. I don't trust anyone who's marketing plan is to cold-knock on every door. I can't really explain that to door-to-door salesmen and solicitors, so I just end up giving a weak-chinned no as I close the door before I go hide in the bathroom with the lights off until they leave.

    This time, I had the perfect bad guy.

    "I'm afraid it just won't fit into our budget," I told the young man.

    He asked if there was any reason I didn't want to support him. (Manipulative, much?)

    I told him again firmly that our budget couldn't be changed. We wished each other well, he shook my hand, and I told him to take good care of his little girl.

     

    It wasn't until an hour later that I realized he had spoken with no Louisiana accent. Not even a tiny Southern lilt.

     

    Yeah, I'm glad I didn't give him any money.

  • There's a Reason Why Harry Potter's Glasses Are Spello-Taped Together

     

    Photo courtesy of Ultra-lab

     

    J and I are both near-sighted. To the point where if one of our pairs of glasses falls off the bedside table in the night, we have to enlist the other find them. We're talking about Velma from Scooby Doo level of myopia here.

    We have been lucky to have vision insurance for most of our adult lives. In fact, the last time I got a new pair of eyeglasses, the optometrist even remarked that we had the "good" insurance. She was pleased for me. I'd be able to take good care of my eyes.

    And yet, for some reason, neither J nor I seem capable of leaving the optometrist without spending at least $500 on new glasses.

    (This was under the "good" insurance, mind you.)

    I find that eyeglass stores are much like college textbook stores, wherein the normal rules of mathematics, retail, and reasonable prices simply do not apply. My insurance was "good" last time because it completely covered my eye exam, and paid for $150 of a new pair of glasses. (I have never actually encountered a pair of glasses that cost $150--at least not once you've put my coke bottle prescription into the frames--so the optometrist and I all had a good laugh over that one.) The insurance also did not cover contact lenses, prescription sunglasses, or any pair of frames a normal human being would be willing to wear in public.

    Sadly, it's now been a few years since my last visit to the eye doctor, and I think it's about time for me to shed my old glasses. The thing is, J and I no longer have the "good" vision plan. (Which means that the insurance company refrains from spitting on the reimbursement  requests, but that's about all the perks we get from them.) Under our new plan, only one person in the family is covered for $250 of vision care every year. That covers that person's eye exam, and perhaps $30 or so toward a pair of glasses. If we've got more than one myopic family member, we'll just have to take turns, or hand over our first born to the optometrist. (To be honest, I've never quite understood this method of extreme payment. If I were the optometrist, I'd really prefer the cash than someone else's kid that I would now be on the hook for raising.)

    J went to the eye doctor last year, so it's my turn this year. Hopefully, our collective nearsightedness will remain at a steady level of "Is that you? Or am I talking to a streetlamp?" rather than either of us finding our vision worsening at a faster rate. Because it won't be too many more years before LO is bumping into furniture, and we'll each have to go to the eye doctor every third year.

    At that point, we may have to choose between sight and sending the kid to college.

    On the bright side, we could presumably just have him hang around the Y without his glasses and tell him it's college. There are some upsides to extreme nearsightedness, as it turns out.

     

    Amazon Giveaway Update:

    Since I never heard back from my original winner, I went ahead and chose a new winner of the $26 gift card. Say congratulations to Frugal_Fun!

  • L'Shanah Tovah!

     

    Photo courtesy of Gilabrand

    Tonight at sundown is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, which literally means "head of the year." To celebrate, my family and I will be refraining from work all day, going to synagogue, and casting away our sins for the past year on the Wabash river in the form of bread crusts and crumbs. (Considering one of my "sins" is an inability to keep our house clean and crumb-free, this is really helpful.)

    One of the best aspects of Rosh Hashanah, other than the sweeter-than-usual Challah and apples dipped in honey for a sweet, round year, is the opportunity to make changes for the better in your life in the coming year. For me, I only have a couple of things I want to improve over the next year, but they're biggies:

    1. I'd like to work on my patience. (This has been my resolution for time immemorial, since I've never been known for patience. My mother used to tell me I could never be a doctor because I had no patience. Ba-dum-bum.) I would like to stop being in such a hurry all the time, and recognize that someone working on a different time frame from me is no excuse for me to get irritated. This one is going to be tough.

    2. I'd like to improve my time management. I have an incredible ability to waste time. Facebook, Twitter, books I've already read, and television shows I've already seen are all major time sucks, and yet I have trouble staying away from them. I'd like to be more present in each moment and use my time more efficiently, so that when I am watching that episode of Big Bang Theory that I've already seen three times, that it is absolutely what I want to be doing at that moment, and not just another time waster that is keeping me from doing the things I'd rather be/I shoud be doing.

    I'll be thinking on these things tomorrow as I listen to the shofar, as I eat apples and honey, as I teach my son the traditional cooking of the brisket. I hope I'll still be thinking of them and acting on them on Tuesday, and the day after, and the day after that.

    What will you be doing differently this year?

  • Raining on Our Investment Property Parade

     

    If you asked me this time yesterday, I would have told you that J and I were likely to become landlords in the very near future. We had found a house we liked. Our realtor knew of a couple looking for a rental. The bank has deemed us credit-worthy.

    But, because of a cautious streak a mile-wide, we decided to have a second look at our potential rental house yesterday afternoon before we made any decisions.

    And of course, that killed it. Our realtor told us the metal roof--which we originally thought would be a feature since it was low maintenance--was actually 50 years old, which would put it at the end of its life span. We noticed some rotting window frames which had escaped our attention the first time around. According to the disclosure, there is something unspecified wrong with the plumbing. There's some water damage in the bathroom wall, which could indicate further roof issues. And the stove needs to be fixed.

    This is all just the stuff we have found. There's no telling what an inspector will say.

    This is where J and I tend to differ in our thought processes. Since we like the house, he's already envisioned owning it and is asking many questions of our realtor in the hopes that we might be able to still make this work. I, on the other hand, tend to wash my hands of things once we get to a certain level of not okay-ness. I'm not only ready to walk away from this house, but I've decided (and this *might* be irrational) that no house in our price range will actually be without major issues.

    Luckily, J and I tend to work well together in merging these two thought processes. It's probably a good idea to find out just what the sellers can and will do in order to sell. And it's also a good idea to keep emotion out of all of this and be ready to walk away at a moment's notice.

    In either case, I know that J and I will end up making the best decision for ourselves and our finances.

     

    It was a really cute house, though. Pity.

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