Monday, February 24, 2014

Yet another crown

I have had more than my fair share of dental work over the years. When I was a small child dentistry in Ireland, and probably everywhere else, was pretty basic. A cavity resulted in either an extraction or a filling, a filling required the entire tooth be hollowed out and the hole filled with a mercury based amalgam. I don't ever remember being told to brush my teeth when I was growing up, and I don't think dental floss had been invented, or if it had, we never heard of it, so the fillings were plentiful. I also never even heard of a dental hygienist until my children where in their teens.

When I was 12 I fell and chipped my front tooth and, as often happens, I eventually developed an abscess on that tooth. It (the tooth) was finally extracted but not before 6 months of painful attempts to drain the abscess, and one attempt to dispose of it by lancing the gum. Following that unpleasant experience I developed two move abscesses over the next few years, these were on back molars and so out they came.

By my early 40s I had a number of crowns and a couple of bridges. All of these had to be replaced by the time I was 50, by then I was living in California and if there is one thing California has, it is good dentistry, so I am hopeful I won't have to have further improvements on those.  I also had all the mercury based fillings replaced with porcelain, no small task.

Since then however, I have had a few more crowns added and a number of root canals. Then there was the crown to crown it all, if you will excuse the pun.  I had the usual Novocaine injection, with the tense wait time for it to do its work, my dentist got started and almost immediately it was clear that the injection didn't do any work at all, long, unpleasant story short, it took a total of 4 injections to get the job done, and that was still with considerable sensitivity right to the bitter end.

That particular crown was followed up almost immediatly by a very unpleasant dental surgery which (and I do now regret not getting photos) required the cutting and peeling back of the gum to expose the root of that same tooth that refused to be numbed, the root was then clipped - to this day I don't quite understand why - I am guessing due to decay in the root, he apparently also did a 'small bone graft' - how can any bone graft be small? All of that surgery was performed under the influence of Valium - me, not the surgeon of course. Nonetheless, it was somewhat traumatic (again for me, not for the surgeon), and when the Novocaine and Valium effects wore off, I was not a happy camper for a while.

So when I discovered that one of those teeth that had been hollowed out many long years ago had started to crumble I headed again to the dentist, knowing full well that it would require a crown, again. I was right. Nervous as I was, I decided this time at the very least it was going to supply me with fodder for my blog. So, I took a photo of the tooth before heading to the dentist. I wish I had a photo of his face when I asked  him to take a photo of the tooth after he had drilled it out, and again after he had built up the 'stump' for the crown. But he entered into the spirit of it, and even told me to smile when he took the photos.

One thing I have got to add to this. This was the first time I had any work done by Dr. McCormick at Leander Dental and I can't tell you how glad I am to have found him. He was probably twice as fast as any other dentist while causing me half the discomfort, less than half. His assistant was also a really efficient and kind person, and every staff member I have interacted with in his office is pleasant and clearly happy in their work, which I think says a lot about Dr. McCormick.

So, here is my photographic record of this, I hope my last, crown:
drilled out tooth (photo taken by Dr McCormick)

crumbling section

Here is an interesting (I think it is interesting) aside, the tooth to the right of the drilled tooth in the second photo is actually the crown that took so many injections and then had a root canal though the crown (hence the ugly filling) and finally ended up with the surgery and 'small bone graft'

Stump ready, felt smaller to the tongue

Temporary crown fitted plus angry look gums

I am afraid there was probably a good photo opportunity between the drilled out tooth and the stump, but I am guessing Dr McCormick was too busy to even think about it, and I was also somewhat distracted.

I left with an appointment to get the permanent crown fitted in two weeks, and instruction on what to do should the temporary crown come loose, fall off, or break.

Two days later I was back getting the temp stuck back on, luckily it didn't break, but it did come loose when I was flossing according to instructions - not pulling down, pulling through - but the space between the crown and the tooth at the back (the same one that caused me so much trauma and pain) was very tight and the floss got jammed.

Finally, two weeks after the initial preparation, I had the permanent crown fitted. There was almost no
adjustments required, it just slotted in perfectly. The photo to the left shows the new crown fitted, and the angry gums are again evident but that won't take long to heal.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

I dreamt of plantation shutters

I have always loved plantation shutters, well, ever since I first became aware of them that is, back when I first arrived in Austin and worked for a window treatment company, then in its infancy. When I bought my first home I could not even think about plantation shutters due to the cost, instead I had Mark (owner of said window treatment company), install shades for me throughout the house, these were still serving their purpose when I finally sold the house 12 years later.

By then I had met and married my husband, and in order to be able to offer his mother a home, we moved to a larger house. This time, with many more windows and an immediate need to cover them, we opted for a temporary solution and purchased over the counter shades with the intention of upgrading when we finally came to that item in our long list of 'to do's.

Three years later I finally realized my dream and my home now has plantation shutters throughout. I did not get that window treatment company I worked for to install these shutters, because Mark is no longer running a company in its infancy, it has grown up and blossomed into a major force in the Interior Design world in Austin, Cravotta Interiors is way out of my league now. But we were determined to support home industry and buy American and we found a local company in Georgetown who manufacture and install plantation shutters, Southern Shutters not just an all American product, but made here in Texas, and while we could have done the job cheaper with a foreign product, we have long supported the buy American policy and this was no exception, our reward is the extremely good service and first class materials and workmanship.

We started slowly a year after we moved in, in part to avoid having to pay out a huge amount up front, and in part because we had an immediate need to cover two windows in our living room that had an arch and so were difficult to cover with over the counter solutions, and because we wanted to be sure we were happy with Southern Shutters. We also had one of the spare bedrooms upstairs done as it has a small bay and was also impossible to cover with over the counter shades. Southern Shutters matched the color of our woodwork, then they sent us a sample piece of wood painted with the paint they planned to use on the finished shutters for us to compare with the existing woodwork. They did not continue to manufacture until we returned the sample with our approval.

We were very happy. The shutters were (and still are) even better than we had hoped. We followed up some months later with the dining area and the dining room, leaving my mother in law's master suite the only windows on the ground floor not yet done.

At last we took the plunge and got the rest of the entire house done, it was a big upheaval, particularly for my mother in law as she had to vacate her room for most of the day, as all of the windows needed to be accessible to the installers, so computers and TVs needed to be unplugged and moved and any furniture close to the windows also had to be moved out of the way. Worst of all, heavy exercise equipment needed to be moved clear of the windows in our workout room. My husband and I moved what we could the night before, at least we moved what he couldn't move without help. He took the he day of the shutters off work and rose early in the moving to do the rest of the preparation while I stayed well out of the way at work.

During the morning of the installation I was working away, but my mind was partially preoccupied with imagining how much of the installation might have been completed and how it must look, when my husband called, I was excited to hear how it was looking but instead he asked me if I had heard from Southern Shutters because apparently they had gone out of business. I was horrified and devastated, I couldn't believe it and I said as much. He replied that I was right to not believe it because they were at the house and the installation was well under way and looking good. I admit it, I called him an 'A$$ hole!' I don't think it is a credit to his sense of humor that he thought it was hilarious, but I guess at least one of us was amused and luckily for him, I don't often hold grudges, and even luckier, for both of us, my windows were being well treated.

Coming home to the finished installation was amazing, like the fairies had visited while I was away and magically transformed my window treatments into a dream come true.

Some photos (and the two bedrooms are great also I didn't bother taking photos). I need to reiterate that Southern Shutters of Georgetown TX are terrific. I would and do recommend them to everyone.

Mildred's windows before above, after below

Office before
The office looks great too
Now we have to put the exercise equipment back in place

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

When an apple can transport you back to your childhood

... and I have to tell you, that my childhood was a long time ago.

In 1954 we moved into a big old house with a large backyard walled in by 5 foot high red brick walls. It was not so much a yard as an orchard, filled with apple trees. Much to our dismay, our father chopped down all the fruit trees in the yard, with the exception of those around the perimeter, and planted grass. Looking back of course, I can see the logic, a large area of grass is much more useful for six wild children to play in. We still got fruit from the trees along the wall, and it was ours for the taking.

I know that a lot of people turn their noses up at the term 'organic' either they think it is just another way to charge more money, or they don't like the natural look of organic produce, because it hasn't been modified to look perfect. Frequently there are odd shaped or blemished items and so many people today think that everything has to be perfect. Give me an organic heirloom tomato with its fascinating shape, colors, and amazing taste any day over a perfectly round, perfectly colored, genetically modified, tasteless tomato!

Today I ate an organic Pink Lady apple, and I was back in that walled garden in Rathmines, Dublin - 8 years old again. The taste was identical and I have not tasted as good since I was a child. I had forgotten what a real apple tasted like.

For anyone interested, here is a link to the house I grew up in. It was recently on the market and this is the listing. There is one photo of the backyard, and I am here to tell you it looked nothing like that back in 1954, for the most, the house looks identical, the rooms all look identical with one big exception, the furniture and the decor is nothing like what we grew up with and the kitchen was transformed.

My mother sold the house shortly after I got married. It came on the market again about 8 years later and I went to view it, with a vain dream of buying it, at that time it had scarcely changed at all. Needless to say, I couldn't afford it back then but I was sure I would be able to the next time it came on the market - little did I know that it would 38 years before that happened again, and not only could I not afford it - my life has changed so much I would no longer consider buying it.

Oh but I did love that house, the yard and the apples of my childhood.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Another fun learning curve

I started giving serious consideration to buying embroidery design software. But the good stuff is always so expensive. I did learn a long time ago that buying cheap is not necessarily buying smart. So often buying cheap ends up costing more in the long run.

I know that I am now totally hooked on my embroidery machine, in fact I see the day, sometime in the faraway future, when it won't be enough and I will need a bigger, better, more sophisticated machine, but right now it is perfect .. but... I am buying designs for it, at between $2 and $8 per design. If I buy the software, not only could I create my own unique designs, I would also have the specific designs I want, instead of settling for what is available, maybe I could even sell my own in time! Not to mention a new hobby in the making, creating the designs.

I have scoured the Internet, specifically consulted my friends Google and Amazon, and on this occasion, Brother as they made my machine. I read as many reviews as I could find and not surprisingly, I have decided that the Brother software is the way to go. Then I had to convince myself that I can justify spending the money. I discussed the idea with my husband and he saw no reason why I shouldn't buy it. I convinced myself. So I took the plunge and ordered Brother PE Design Plus, from an Amazon merchant of course, iCanHelpSew, great service from them, free, fast delivery and very well packaged.

As soon as it arrived I installed it and started playing around with the various functionality. Then I headed to YouTube and searched out a few helpful video tutorials, finally transformed one of my photos into a sewing pattern using the software and, having learned my lesson, I tested it out on yet another piece of the rejected sheet. It didn't work.  But I played around with the software for a while and learned a whole lot more about it. I know I will get it to work for me, as I did the machine. It is just a matter of time and patience.

Then I imported a couple of the patterns I had purchased and embroidered two shirts, definitely faster than the hand embroidery.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Silver Linings

Having suffered a very nasty bout of gastroenteritis and lost 4 pounds in 3 days, more than I could hope to lose in a month of dieting, I started to think about food disorders. Despite having struggled with my weight since my first child was born, there is no way I could ever subject myself to such a thing. Of course I do know that no one deliberately subjects them self to an eating disorder, in the same way as no one ever indulges in depression, nor can they 'snap out of it' as some seem to think they should.

And, I suppose self induced vomiting is probably not quite as bad as the awful nausea and uncontrollable symptoms that accompany gastroenteritis, with the headaches that dehydration brings, and trying to stay hydrated when it is impossible to keep down even a small sip of water. At least I didn't have a fever, which would have made the dehydration more severe and I guess it would have been possible to feel worse than I did the first day of the illness.

Naturally I consulted my good friend Google and here is what webmd has to say about gastroenteritis:

When you have diarrhea and vomiting, you may say you have the "stomach flu." What it's really called is gastroenteritis. Although it may make you feel pretty bad, it's an illness that actually has nothing to do with the real flu. In gastroenteritis, your stomach and intestines are irritated and inflamed. The cause is typically a viral or bacterial infection. With the stomach flu, the main symptoms you probably have are watery diarrhea and vomiting. You might also have stomach pain, cramping, fever, nausea, and a headache.

So, having turned my thoughts to eating disorders, I looked for a precise description and found a wiki  describing:  bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating and purging, or consuming a large amount of food in a short amount of time followed by an attempt to rid oneself of the food consumed (purging), typically by vomiting, taking a laxative, diuretic, or stimulant, and/or excessive exercise, because of an extensive concern for body weight

And another :  Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by immoderate food restriction and irrational fear of gaining weight, as well as a distorted body self-perception. Because of the fear of gaining weight, people with this disorder restrict the amount of food they consume. Outside of medical literature, the terms anorexia nervosa and anorexia are often used interchangeably; however, anorexia is simply a medical term for lack of appetite, and people with anorexia nervosa do not, in fact, lose their appetites. Patients with anorexia nervosa may experience dizziness, headaches, drowsiness and a lack of energy.

And yet again some statistics on eating disorders:

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old.

Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.

That started me thinking about healthy eating. My attempts to lose weight have really not been very successful, or when they have been, the success has been very short lived. The most notable was a 9 month stint with LA Weight Loss, when I dropped a total of 34 pounds and reached my goal. I felt great and managed to maintain that loss for 4 months, after which it seemed to just slide back on without any effort whatsoever. Since my mid 30s I have been very careful to avoid trans fat and sugar, and I have never been very fond of fast food. But now I am looking at this problem in a new light. With all the processing of foods, all the additives, declared on labels and those not mentioned anywhere, and all the genetically modified foods, I don't think anyone stands a chance. I am quite amazed that there are still some slim people in this world.

Here is what my search turned up on processed foods and childhood obesity, which I believe lays the foundation for obesity in adults (read the full article by Dr Mercola here)

"In short, the obesity epidemic is a direct outgrowth of a diet of processed foods with their cheap non-nutritive fillers, artificial ingredients, and synthetic chemical additives (many of which are banned in other countries due to health effects).

Most importantly, virtually all processed foods are loaded with refined fructose, primarily in the form of high fructose corn syrup—and in the US, most of it is genetically engineered (GE) to boot. This type of diet is a major factor in the recipe for obesity."

So, you might well ask, where is the silver lining? Well, and I do freely admit to having a Pollyanna syndrome, but I do believe that if you look hard enough you will find a silver lining to every cloud. The silver lining behind the cloud of my recent attack of gastroenteritis, is not so much the weight loss, but the wake up call, the way I am now looking at my eating habits. I already buy mainly organic fruits and vegetables, and for some time we have been buying organic, grass fed beef and organic chicken - that is if you trust the labels, which we have no way of disputing. So now what I have to do is eliminate, if not completely, at least as much as possible, processed foods and foods containing any form of sweetener, and try to stick to only good carbs. Having received the gift of a good head start with those 4 pounds, it would be such a shame to not take advantage of it.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's and other cards

In the US alone, 7 billion greeting cards are purchased every year. Annual retail sales of greeting cards are estimated at more than $7.5 billion. A greeting card can cost anything from 50 cents through to 10 dollars. Though personally I don't remember seeing any for 50 cents in a long time. The average price of a greeting card falls between the $2 – $4 price band.

Media, and greeting card manufacturers and retailers have made it their business, in fact have made their business out of, making us all feel like heels if we don't buy cards for every occasion.

I believe I mentioned before the fact that my husband is very frugal, and while he is a very romantic person, his overpowering character trait, apart from being frugal, is being practical. He has a very hard time understanding why anyone would spend so much money on a card that is then thrown away, or in my case, put in the recycle bin. Actually, before I met him all cards were saved, another habit he could not understand.

The first few years of our marriage he made cards for me, on the computer with his own verse (he is a very good poet) and I bought cards for him. Then one Valentine's Day, he read the card I had bought him and said it was so nice why didn't I keep it and give it to him again the following year. And so the tradition was born.

For the last 10 years I have kept Valentine's, Birthday, Christmas and Anniversary cards which we have given to each other, and each year we exchange cards, and then I save them for the following year. Working on the average price of $4 per card, that is a total of 8 cards per year, $32. Divide that by 10 years, we have now reduced our cost to 32 cents per card, and each year our cards become even cheaper. And that is not taking into account the fact that the cost of cards will continue to get even more expensive.  Add to that is the fact that we don't have to waste time actually scouring the card racks for the ideal card, we did that once for each of our cards, so the amount of time invested is also reducing each year.

This may seem strange to some people but we love our tradition, apart from the savings in time and money, it amuses us.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why do socks never fit?

I have a thing about socks. I really like to have lots of interesting and zany pairs of socks. I like my socks to match my outfit not just be neutral. Most of all, I like them to fit. You would think that wouldn't be so difficult, but I have the hardest time finding socks that the heel doesn't end up half way up my calf. I do have small feet, I wear a woman's size 6 shoe (US size) that is 4 UK size and European size 36 - that will vary slightly depending on the brand of course, as nothing is standard. So, according to all conversion charts and most sock sizes, that dictates I wear a ladies size 9-11 sock.  To fit size ladies shoes (US) 6 to 9. No doubt the unfortunate ladies with feet smaller than mine, and I know of a few, also shop in the girls department.

ladies' socks, they are too big

Whoever came up with that idea? In order to fit size 6 to 9, the sock has got to be big enough to fit a size 9. Have you ever seen a size 9 and a size 6 shoe side by side? A sock to fit someone who wears a size 9 shoe is WAY too big for a size 6 foot - I know because I am sick of wearing socks that are way to big, it is extremely uncomfortable.

girls' socks, they fit
So I am in the habit of buying my socks in the girls department. The largest size kids sock is (depending on the brand) 11 - 2, to fit shoe size 3 to 6 (US) and they normally fit me perfectly though I have actually bought girls socks that turn out to be slightly large also, but never so big that they are uncomfortable - and usually the cheaper the sock, the worse the fit, so it makes sense to buy good brands.

Ladies' no show too big
Girls' no show, too small

low cut - just right!

I don't like 'no show' because girls' no show' socks are too short from heel to ankle, and ladies are way too big, however I did find a pair of low cut socks that fit perfectly, unfortunately I have not been able to find another pair the same since.

I did venture into the more interesting 'toe' sock after I had surgery for a bunion and hammer toe. I thought the separation of toes would be good for my feet and the socks would have to be made to specific foot size and not range of sizes, and I still believe that. Unfortunately my feet are definitely not what sock manufacturers consider normal.

foot with odd toes

If you look at the photos you will see in the one of my bare foot, at first glance they look normal, but a second look shows that my little toe is not only very short, it is set lower than the rest of the toes and in fact, the fourth toe is also shorter and lower set than the other three, as indicated in the photo where I am wearing the toed sock, there is no way I can get that little toe into the allotted toe piece, and the fourth toe is only just in there, with a little space above.

toe sock just doesn't fit my odd toes, fits the rest of my foot

Considering that shoes are made to fit a specific size and not a range, and shoes are more expensive, surely socks can also be fitted better? I can't imagine having to wear a shoe that fits from shoe size 6 to 9!

Monday, February 10, 2014

I cannot stand whistling

To demonstrate how difficult it is to deal with this horrible sound, many years ago, shortly after I came to the US, I got a call from my sister in Dublin. It was late in the evening over there and she was in a taxi on her way home. In a way that only sisters can communicate, I very quickly understood, without her actually saying it, that the taxi driver was whistling and was in severe danger as her anger became almost uncontrollable. She called me in Texas, on her mobile phone, in order that I could talk her down, and save the taxi driver from immediate injury. We talking for the rest of her journey home, probably a full 20 minutes.

I didn't think it was in the least bit odd. I did think that we were both more than a bit strange, but not for the first time.

My wonderful husband of over 12 years has a habit of whistling when he is concentrating. The first week we met I had to explain to him how much I hated whistling, and he does make valiant efforts to curb his habit around me. When he forgets I stop short of choking him and ask him to stop, which he does. Sometimes he even manages to remain quiet for more than a few minutes but, depending on the task at hand, he soon starts up again. I know that he is not even aware that he is doing it, sadly that doesn't stop me from wanting to scream. I do hate being a nag, so rarely will I remind him more than twice. The third time I either remove myself from the vacinity, or stick headphones in my ears with the music up high enough to drown out the awful sound.

It is not just that I hate the sound of whistling, tuneless or otherwise, it makes me see red—I am normally a fairly easy going person, injustice in any form will get me riled, but whistling makes me want to kill. As both my sisters feel the same I often thought it was because my father used to constantly whistle tunelessly, and as small children we were very afraid of him, with good cause.

However, I consulted my good friend Google and discovered a multitude of people out there with exactly the same reaction. I can't tell you how comforting it was to discover the people here, who not only shared my abhorrence of whistling, but also 'smacking' or 'gobbling' when eating or chewing gum, finger tapping, tuneless humming and almost any repetitive noise, oh, and cracking knuckles.

But imagine my amazement when I discovered that there is actually a name for this perfectly natural reaction! Misophonia! Described by my other friend Wiki here. Misophonia, literally "hatred of sound", is a neurological disorder in which negative experiences (anger, flight, hatred, disgust) are triggered by specific sounds.

What is even more surprising is that there is a website and Yahoo group dedicated to people with this condition. Could it be that I am normal after all!?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

I finally did it!

So, today was the day I went from an 'A' to a real embroidery pattern. Back to the cactus / cowboy hat I started with. I feel it is important to conquer that one before going any further.

I printed out the suggested color schemes, selected my colors (I did pick a light brown for the highlight on the hat, as I didn't like the suggested red) and prepared another piece of the rejected sheet, applied the stabilizer backing and fitted it to the hoop, I have become quite skilled at all of those steps, not surprisingly as I have repeated them so many times now. I loaded the pattern onto my card and inserted the card in the correct slot on the machine, turned on the machine and got ready to go.

I was amazed to see the machine take off like a thing possessed, and actually work! Not that I blame it for not working before, I take full responsibility for that.

It worked its way through the cactus, stopped and politely prompted me for another color, I obliged and pressed the start button and off it went again. We repeated this process 9 times, I feel that I have now become quite skilled at treading the machine too. As the saying goes, practice does make perfect, or at least better than before.
I cannot tell you how happy I am with the finished product, I know it has taken me weeks to get here, and I could not have done it without the help of Google and a whole lot of patience that only comes with age. But now I have to return to GO without collecting $200 as my next adventure in the land of embroidery machines will be 'The Return of the T-Shirt'. Luckily I have a large number of t-shirts that I bought wholesale, and there are more where they came from.  
I think I will repeat the cactus/hat trick on a t-shirt before expanding my adventures into the land of embroidery design software. Perhaps I will change the colors further for the next experiment.

Below is a short video showing the possessed machine at work.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The working day - I love flexitime.

For most of us, the working day is the standard 8 hours, and in the majority of companies in the corporate world that day is traditionally 9 to 5.  More and more companies are moving towards flextime, according to the Wiki described as:  Flextime (also spelled flexitime [British English], flexi-time) is a variable work schedule .

I really do appreciate that the company I work for supports this arrangement. And mostly it works really well both for me and for my employer.  For a number of reasons I choose to start work at 5 a.m., though sometimes I am actually at my desk before 4.30 a.m. and I am usually able to leave at 2.30 or 3 p.m. 

The main reason I choose these hours is that I live almost 30 miles from the office, not a unreasonable commute if it were not for the fact that my home is well north of the city of Austin Texas, and the office is south of the city. Austin traffic is absolutely awful, coupled with, and probably caused by, at least in part, the fact that public transport is almost non existent. See report here if you are interested - Austin is the 15th worst city for traffic in the US. 

By coming in very early I am guaranteed almost empty roads all the way, and driving home in the early afternoon will, mostly, ensure that the traffic is manageable, with the exception of Friday, when there is no time in the working day when the traffic is in any way reasonable.

The map on the right shows the location of my home marked at the top, and the office location at the bottom. And below is a typical rush hour on the road I drive every day to work.

This is the road I drive every day to work
Another reason for my choice of working hours is the fact that I have always been a morning person, and as I get older I find I don't sleep as long as I used to. Waking around 2.30 to 3.00 a.m.

Because of that, and the fact that we have an exercise facility in the office, almost as good as any gym, I get up when I awake and head to the office where I can workout, shower and be at my desk by 5 a.m. (earlier if I skip my workout which I do if I am particularly busy).

Where this wonderful plan falls apart is on a week like this week, Wednesday I was busy enough to skip my workout and arrived at my desk at 4.15 a.m. It was one of those days when there was scarcely time to go to the bathroom, let alone eat lunch. At 2.15 p.m. I had been working flat out for 10 hours when I got caught up in working on an urgent production fix. Naturally, despite the fact that everyone knows that I do the 'early shift' I was there and I got roped into the frey.

At 3.25, over 11 hours straight, I staggered out of the office and headed home, traffic was still not unbearable fortunately, but it was starting to build.  By the time I got home and prepared dinner that was me done for the day.  Thursday was a repeat, except that I managed to get out of the office after 10 hours straight, again no time to eat lunch. Friday didn't let up.  It was another 4.30 start, fortunately I maanged to get out of the office at 11.30 a.m. Almost a full day, however as soon as I got home I was working over VPN until 3 p.m. which resulted in another 10 hour day.  In total this week I worked almost 50 hours.  

Luckily this doesn't happen very often and certainly not often enough to stop me from continuing my somewhat unusual schedule, at least until such time as I can retire, currently just a pipe dream.

I still love flexitime, even on the days when it appears to be way too flexible and not in my favor.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Give me an 'A'

Last week we left my embroidery machine battle with the epiphany according to the Wiki: 'from the ancient Greek epiphaneia, ("manifestation, striking appearance") is an experience of sudden and striking realization' that I needed to change the presser foot to use the correct, embroidery foot.

Today I changed the foot. That sounds so simple doesn't it? It must have taken me about 30 minutes and multiple attempts, carefully following the step by step instructions in the manual. Each time I thought I had it attached correctly, I pressed the 'needle down' button and nothing happened. A quick 'jiggle' of the foot revealed the fact that it was definitely not installed correctly. I did finally get it to connect and lock in place, unfortunately I have no idea how I did it. I just hope I never have to change it again.

Having finally fitted the correct presser foot, I got out my trusty scrap of rejected sheet with stabilizer applied, fitted it to the hoop and fitted the hoop to the machine. Off we went, with the same 'A' and the same green thread, following the theory of only changing one thing at a time.

I watched mesmerized as my machine set off on its preprogrammed task and dutifully spelt out an 'A' like a modern day Ouija board.  As far as I could see, it was definitely doing a much better job than before. When it finally finished I felt there should surely be a drum roll as I removed the hoop to inspect the result.

Yes, it was definitely an 'A' and it did look exactly like the 'A' on the small computer screen on my machine, but one thing look very wrong, it was almost entirely white - the color of the bobbin thread, with just a bare outline of the green it should have been.  

Like I said before, I am not new to sewing machines, so I suspected the bobbin tension, but also because I have some experience with sewing machines, I know that adjusting the bobbin tension can cause endless problems. Thank goodness for Google, I searched and found the following on a forum posted in July of 2006:

"my wife ran into this the other night as well with her janome machine while doing some t-shirts. Went through all the tension adjustments, added more stabilizer poor thing was about pulling her hair out. I hate it when I hear grunts and dirty words coming from her sewing room so I tend to pop in and "support" her.

While she was sitting there fuming trying everything she could think of I grabbed the manual and did my technical step by step approach. Turned out that the drop in bobbin was either backwards or the thread had moved when closing the lid and the bobbin thread had worked its way out of a tiny little grove it's supposed to feed through, which of course messed up the tension."

So I pulled the bobbin out of its housing and, following the step by step instructions and accompanying diagram in the manual, carefully replaced it.

Once again I found a new spot in my sample fabric, placed it in the hoop and set the machine off on its merry way.

Just look at the 'A' I finally got! I was so happy. I realize this is just the beginning, and I admit it took way too long to get to this point, but now I am ready to start on something more complicated.  Luckily the rejected sheet is a queen size, so I have a whole lot more samples to work through before I go back to my t-shirts, but I will get there!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why does health care and tax time become more complicated as you get older?

What is that about?

A few years ago the company I work for, like many other companies, worrying only about their bottom line, switched to a High Deductible Health Plan - and unlike many other companies, did not even offer an alternative. The majority of companies who do offer a HDHP, will offer a standard PPO or HPO at a higher cost to the employee - and I for one would willingly have paid more to stay with a standard plan, but no, I had to go with the HDHP. The one perk was that my employer would deposit some cash into my HSA quarterly.

High Deductible basically means that the Insurance company pays for nothing until you have paid out of pocket up to a maximum for the year.  Approximately $6000 for myself and my husband. For reasonably healthy people, which we are for our ages, that would mean we would probably end up paying for our own health care, plus our share of the insurance coverage costs, without ever being in a position to claim anything back from Insurance, barring a serious illness or accident. The only perk that goes with it - the Health Savings Account (HSA) - a savings plan into which I could put pre tax money to be used for health care expenses, my own pre tax money. My employer would added a quarterly amount in an effort to sweeten the pill.

But wait ... just a few weeks into the start of the first year, having resigned myself to this ugly, expensive and somewhat frightening health cover, I was told that I was not entitled to an HSA - my HR department, and the company they had engaged to manage the plan, both insisted that IRS rules forbid anyone enrolled in Medicare to hold a HSA - see the IRS rules below, true - and I had just enrolled in part B Medicare. So I immediately unenrolled and continued my year on the HDHP. I might add that neither my husband (also covered by my plan) nor myself went to the doctor during that year. I did go for my annual physical - we were assured that this was the one thing fully covered under the plan, however I ended up paying in full for that as the Insurance Company refused to cover it. I was not aware until the following year that my husband stopped taking his medication for high cholesterol due the exorbitant price of it.

Towards the end of the year I was told by my HR department and the benefits management company that I was no longer eligible for an HSA due to my age.  This time they didn't care that I had unenrolled in Medicare, they read the IRS rules to say if I was eligible for Medicare I couldn't have the HSA, so the following year we decided to do a careful analysis of the difference in cost and benefit to us between my employer's plan and my husband's employer's plan. We decided to go with my husband's plan. Particularly as I researched on the IRS website and found that I could actually use what money I had still in my HSA for medical expenses I just couldn't put any more tax free deposits into it. There was not much of a balance and there were a number of expenses to offset against it, so that was not an issue.

The first quarter I noticed a deposit from my employer in my HSA. It took a while but I got them to reverse that. Next quarter, low and behold, another deposit from my employer. Once again I had them reverse it.

Time came to do my taxes and as I studied my W2 I noticed in box 12b a sum equivalent to the deposits that I had received in error from my employer and had them reverse. Is there no end to the amount of stress and extra work involved in all of this? Now I am obliged to figure out how to have them issue me a corrected W2 and hope that this does't flag me for yet another IRS audit. Lucky for me, I keep careful accounts and file everything so should I be audited, it will be just another inconvenience.

I ask you? Surely this sort of thing should get easier as you get older? I will tell you that Medicare appears to be designed to ensure that only those elderly people who started out at genius status, and haven't lost any of their brain cells fighting with Insurance Companies along the way, will have any way of understanding how to go about selecting cover and what that cover is.

The worst part of all this - so far - I am sure there will be more, is that I found a publication on the IRS web site:  that clearly states, to my understanding, that I was certainly eligible for an HSA once I had unenrolled in Medicare, and my old age was nothing to do with anything, apart from a few wrinkles and aches and pains. But they certainly added some more of both. Below is what the IRS say:

Qualifying for an HSA

To be an eligible individual and qualify for an HSA, you must meet the following requirements.

  • You must be covered under a high deductible health plan (HDHP), described later, on the first day of the month.
  • You have no other health coverage except what is permitted under Other health coverage, later.
  • You are not enrolled in Medicare.
  • You cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else's 2013 tax return.

If you meet these requirements, you are an eligible individual even if your spouse has non-HDHP family coverage, provided your spouse's coverage does not cover you.

I really did meet every one of those requirements, once I had unenrolled in Medicare.  I just hope that when the time comes for me to reenroll in Medicare, I don't hit another series of obstacles. In the meantime, we continue with our coverage through my husband's employer and he has once again got his cholesterol levels under control.