31 July 2014

Full of Pique

It was one of those mornings. I had to get up at before the crack of dawn, in order to catch an early train, because I had to get to a dentist appointment at 8:00, because on Monday, I went to the same dentist (at 8 am, same early train, same dark arising) and was told that I had a tiny little cavity. I can't remember the last time I had a cavity. Ancient fillings falling apart, leading to root canals and crowns? Sure. Tiny little newborn cavities? Blech.

On the train, the accursed early train, I discovered that I'd left my wallet home. My wallet, with my monthly train ticket, and my flex account credit card. So I got a bill from the conductor, which he claimed they will waive when I whine at customer service with my actual ticket in hand, but I'm going to have to whine nicely at the conductor on the train home so that I don't get a second bill. I did, however, get a belly laugh out of the dentist's assistant when I told him that I'd left my wallet home and that "of course, I won't be able to pay you". He shrugged, which is one of the reasons I adore him.

My general sense of pique at the ill start to my day was thoroughly exacerbated by the plethora of infuriating stories in the good grey lady, like the one about the trust fund dilettante whose neighbors don't like that she's inviting artists to her eight acre estate in suburban Connecticut. Read it, the whole thing. It's full of gag-inducing gems, ranging from "littered with Mr. Zorn’s charcoal sketches, including one that bore the digestive imprint of a chicken" to "Home-schooled until the age of 14, when her mother, Euphemia Brock Slater, a Mayflower descendant, died from complications of rheumatic fever..."

Then there was the front page article about the dare-devil idiots swinging from natural rock arches out in Moab, UT.

Agency officials say they are always surprised by how fast extreme sports evolve around them. One day, they got a call that someone had built a human catapult from the top of a plateau. They then realized they had no rules about human catapults, for or against.

Right - there are no rules about human catapults because normal human beings never dreamed that anyone would try such a thing outside of a circus!

But the piece that really got me frothing at the mouth was the one about Under Armour's new ad campaign. It's geared towards women, and it showcases a ballet dancer. Great! But:

Advertising for Under Armour tends to feature elite athletes competing on fields, but to promote its women’s line the athletic apparel brand has a new commercial starring a nonathlete....Under Armour says Ms. [Missy] Copeland is the first nonathlete with whom it has signed an advertising contract.

Sputter, sputter, sputter.

What neither Under Armour nor its ad agency (and perhaps the New York Times too) realize is that ballet dancers are passionate, disciplined, fierce ATHLETES. To call this campaign one that uses a "non-athlete" is appallingly insensitive. Just because they're not playing a game in which someone loses and someone else wins, doesn't make them not athletes.

And lest you want to quibble, ask an orthopedist, or read the Merriam-Webster definition of athlete:

noun \ˈath-ˌlēt, ÷ˈa-thə-ˌlēt\

: a person who is trained in or good at sports, games, or exercises that require physical skill and strength

Ballet dancer = athlete. No question.

Tomorrow, I plan to wake up at a normal hour and I hope to be not infuriated by anything I read in the paper.

30 July 2014

When The Fat Lady Sings, It's About Health Insurance

If you are a New Yorker, or an opera aficionado, or a follower of all things union, you probably know that the Metropolitan Opera is on the cusp of a possible lockout: "The contracts for 15 unions at the Met expire on Thursday night."

But here's the little thing in this big sad story that gobsmacks me:

The Met sent its workers a memo last week saying that in the event of a lockout, unionized workers covered by the Met would lose their health insurance, and that paying for insurance under the federal Cobra law would cost $1,255 a month for individuals and $2,793 a month for families.

What the hell kind of fancy pants insurance costs $1,255 for an individual? That's $15,060 a year.

The insurance we have in my office is a "bronze" plan with a fairly high deductible and an out-of-pocket maximum of $6,250. The trade-off for the high deductible and out-of-pocket, is a fairly low premium, of $434.98 per month, which comes to $5,219.76 each year. If you add the annual premium to the out-of-pocket limit, you get a total of $11,469.76 per year. That's $3500 less a year than the Met is paying for individuals. And if I'm healthy and don't go to the doctor beyond my annual physical (which is covered outside of the deductible), I'm not going to invoke any of that OOP - so my overall cost is only the cost of the premium.

Some months ago, I was helping a friend of a friend navigate through the NYS health insurance exchange. What I realized then is that the relationship between premiums and out-of-pocket limits was such that if you are in a situation where you need to use all of the insurance, you're going to pay about the same amount of money no matter what "metal level" plan you pick - that the annual premium plus the out-of-pocket maximum was almost the same for any of the plans. By choosing a bronze plan, you'll have a lower monthly cost but you could have cost spikes through the year as you actually incur medical expenses. Choosing the platinum plan bumps up your monthly fixed costs, but mitigates any later incurred expenses.

You know how your utility company offers "budget billing", where they estimate your annual electric bill and divide it by twelve so you pay the same amount every month? There's more chance associated with a month to month electric bill: OMG I had to run the A/C 24/7 in July and ouch! The platinum plans are sort of like your electric companies budget billing, the bronze plan is like taking your chances and knowing that the A/C is going to run up your summer electric bill.

And here's what's crazy: if you're employed, you don't have any choice! You can get lucky and work for an employer like the Met, where the employer is probably picking up a big chunk of that $15,060 each year and the employees are probably paying next to nothing for their actually incurred health expenses. Or you can work for an office like mine - where the office pays 100% of our premium and we're on our own after that. But really, why should it be employer based? Health insurance ought to be severed from employment.

Why should you have to pay for insurance with post-tax dollars if you work for yourself or for a small company that doesn’t offer insurance, but with pre-tax dollars if you work for a larger company? Why should your employer’s preferences — including, as they do now, their preferences on what kind of birth control you should use — be more important than your own? And why should your insurance have to change if you get a new job?

What are we going to do to make that happen?

29 July 2014

Camp: It's all fun and games, until someone ends up in the clink.

I am beginning to wonder why we never sent the kid to camp before. The first day, there was the horse with the doily on its head. Over the weekend, we got a picture of her jumping! Of course, she was jumping over rails without a horse, but hey! (Or is that hay?)

Hey kid, where's your horse?

I think, though, the letters home may be even better than the pictures. Letter #1: I'm having the best time at camp. Letter #2: Daddy, remember those Tastykakes you bought me? They were confiscated because of "mice". Letter #3:

If you can't read that, it says:

Dear Mommy and Daddy,
Please send poker chips! Our bunk
all made businesses, and I'm
the casino, and we need some chips.


Horses. Gambling. What's next, rum running?

You'll be happy to know that no poker chips were shipped off to the wilds, given that the letter arrived Monday and we pick her up on Friday. Mama ain't got time to FedEx no poker chips.

28 July 2014

A Rhetorical Pedantic Question

Today, let's complain about sizes. Oh, not the usual bit about how a size 12 dress isn't what it used to be, and size 000 is the new vanity waif size.

No, shoe sizes. Back in the day, like before I had that child of mine, I wore a size 10 shoe. I became resigned to the fact that it was impossible to buy shoes on sale, because they stocked fewer of the big (and tiny) sizes so by the time shoes were on sale, only the mid range, common sizes were left. Gradually, my feet crept up in size (thank you pregnancy and old age), and now they're a comfortable 11. Happily, I'm not the only one, so where it used to be that shoes ran up to size 10 and stopped, it's pretty common to find an 11 these days.

But a couple of weeks ago, I put on my size 11, purchased after childbirth, barely worn, Keen hiking boots, and groaned. Too small, toes hitting the end of the shoe. Not at all good, given that I need them for our upcoming vacation.

I looked carefully at the label, and noticed that they're marked US-W 11 / Euro 42. Huh, I thought, my Danskos are a 43 - I thought Euro 43 was US-W 11. So I started looking online for boots in a Euro 43, and ended up ordering two pairs from Zappos (free return shipping FTW).

The first pair is marked US-W 11 / US-M 10 / Euro 43:

The second pair is marked US-M 10 / Euro 44:

So - the three pairs of boots marked with three different Euro sizes, but two are the "same" women's size, and two are the "same" men's size.

In other words, there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to shoe sizes either. WHY IS THAT? WHY CAN'T THINGS BE STANDARDIZED? An inch is an inch, a kilogram is a kilogram. How hard would it be to standardize shoe and clothing sizes?

Oh, and I ended up with the Merrell boots - in a men's size 10. My next pair of hiking boots are going to be from the clown shoe department. My 10 year daughter is already wearing a woman's 7 or 7 1/2 shoe; I told her that she was going to be shopping for shoes in the drag queen department when she's full grown.

I hope I haven't scarred her for life.

25 July 2014


The little girl is off at sleepaway camp for ten days. It's the first time she's been away from us like this, for this long. Ten days of no "get out of bed", "eat your dinner", "brush your teeth", "read a book". Ten days of no snuggles and no Doctor Who marathons, no broad conversations at the breakfast table about religion and the cosmos, no cardboard boxes being cut up in the living room and reassembled into doll school classrooms and dormitories and furniture.

Instead, there's a trickle of random photos sent out by the camp, mostly out of focus.

Why is the horse wearing a doily‽‽‽

I, dutiful mother, have been sending mail, old-style mail with stamps. A postcard of NYC: "Wish you were here"! A photo of the cat sandwiched between the hamster cages. A quote from Maya Angelou: "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."

She, my small person, she calls me Mommy or Mama or Mom. And yet, every single time I sign one of those little notes to her, I wonder what to write. Am I Mom? Should I sign it with "Mom"? Ten and a half years into being her mother, signing a postcard with "Mom" feels otherworldly, not right, not me.

I fudge. The "M" is legible, the rest could be anything. She can call me anything, but my name is still my name.

13 July 2014

Trip Planning

We are working on plans for our summer adventure, making lists and buying new hiking boots.

I, however, have my priorities.

One needs coffee for breakfast, so I am eyeing this cunning thermal stainless-steel French press:

And one needs wine with dinner, so I impulse bought one of these plastic wine glasses with an unscrewable stem:

Of course, we're going to Utah, where caffeine and alcohol are verboten, so I'm not sure how practical either of these will turn out to be.

06 July 2014

Perfect, in a fruits and vegetables kind of way

I think it was the perfect weekend.

The weather was glorious.

There were strawberries and raspberries to be picked.

And some of them got sidetracked into a jar of brandy, for brandied fruits for Christmas, because one likes to think ahead.

The girl splashed around in the stream, horsing around on a Sno-Tube because we don't have any water floaties. She enlisted me: I tied a length of rope on with a bowline because I still know some knots and then she'd float through the rapids so I could haul her back upstream.

On the way home, we detoured past a farm stand that was rumored to have corn, first of the season corn. And they did, and it was good.

And there were fresh shell peas, and local bing cherries.

And because we were so out of the way, we detoured further, past some wonderful ice-cream in Hudson. I had fig. I would have fig every day if I could.

And when we got home, I added fresh bing cherries to the strawberry/raspberry/brandy concoction.

And we ate dinner on the back deck - corn, and peas with a little chiffonade of mint (they sang, really they just sang, those minted peas), and weisswurst procured at the Veteran Pork Store, in yet another detour. And while we were eating, the girl noticed that the patio tomato in the big pot on the deck had produced fruit. The first tomatoes of the season.

Corn, tomatoes, strawberries. Raspberries, cherries, peas. It's a good time of year for eating. And swimming. And basking in the sunlight. And walking barefoot on the grass.

Perfect, even.

02 July 2014

Our Under Lobby

I have been walking by this sign for a week or so, and I find it oddly and head-scratchingly charming.

Pardon our
Appearance the lobby
In under renovation.

It's like some disjointed found poetry, or an ID test where you have to rearrange the words to make a coherent sentence.

Pardon our appearance in the lobby under renovation?  No.

Pardon our appearance under renovation in the lobby? No.


Pardon the appearance in our under renovation lobby.