Archive | November, 2012

How Much Are We Really Saving?

29 Nov

Remember back in April when I wrote a post called The True Value Of A Penny?  No?  Well, you should go read it.  It has Ryan Gosling in it.

In the event that you’re opposed to clicking links that promise Ryan Gosling (do you also hate puppies and life?), then just know that the post contains the fact that it costs the US government 2.4 cents to make a penny.

The US Mint made just under 5 billion pennies in 2011.  At 2.4 cents a piece, that’s a total of $120 million dollars spent making a coin that is more likely to be used as a bingo marker by your grandmother than actually be spent.

$120 million dollars.  People trample strangers in line on Black Friday for less than that.

But there is good news.  It seems the US Mint has finally realized that they’re losing money on this deal, and’they’ve set out to fix the problem.  They’re going to change the metal composition of pennies*. (Surprise- those little copper coins are actually only about 2.5% copper.  The rest is zinc.)

The US Mint estimates that changing the composition of the coins will save them $75 million per year.  Subtract that from their current production expense of $120 million, and you get $45 million.  Then, divide that by the 5 billion pennies the US Mint will, um, mint, and you’ll see that the government will be paying about 1 cent per coin.

Sounds like a good deal, huh?  Almost makes you like the penny again.

But wait, this story doesn’t end here.  You see, the US Mint is also changing the composition of the nickel, since those five-cent pieces cost 11.2 cents per coin to make.  So, doing the math on that one, we get the following:

Roughly 1 billion nickels x 11.2 cents a piece = $112 million dollars spent for coins actually worth about $50 million.

$112 million for nickels plus $120 million for pennies = $232 million for one year’s production of coins with a face value of $110 million.

$232 million – the $75 million savings the US Mint estimates = $157 million.

Divide that $157 million by the 6 billion nickels and pennies the US Mint will spit out, and adjust for the fact that it costs nearly 5 times more to make a nickel than a penny, and you get the new values:

1.57 cents to make a penny, and 7.22 cents to make a nickel.

Ooh, so close to balance, and yet so far.  Because even with the lowered cost, the US Mint will still be losing $56.4 million per year in production costs.

On the bright side, the US Mint makes 13.9 cents per quarter they produce, and 4.35 cents per dime.  The down side is that there aren’t enough quarters and dimes made each year to balance out the deficit from pennies and nickels.

Of course, we could solve the problem entirely by eliminating pennies and nickels from the US currency.  We’d save $157 million a year.

But then we’d have to find new bingo markers for Grandma… Hmm.  There may be no winner here.

Oh, and one final mind-blowing revelation: nickels are actually 75% copper.

*source: http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2012/03/28/treasury-to-cut-costs-by-remaking-coins-replacing-paper/

Preparing For The Purge

26 Nov

I realized something this week.  I have a lot of stuff.

I realized this after a) it took me the better part of an hour to clear off two tables so my office could double as a dining room, b) I found stuff on my desk that I’d forgotten that I had, and c) the idea of unpacking the boxes now that I have exclusive use of my office again is exhausting.

Today, I looked around my bedroom and realized that it too is full of stuff.  This is problematic because in just over a month, I will have to pack up all my stuff from around the house and move it to the next city.

That’s right- I am moving.  Last week, I put a deposit down on an apartment, and I move in January 1st.  (This means that somewhere, there’s a landlord who considers me a viable tenant.  My blog must not have shown up on the background check…)

Now I have 35 days to go through 21 hyears worth of stuff and decide what is worth keeping and what can be donated/recycled/trashed.  I’m actually looking forward to this project.  I’ve spent this past year cutting all of the extra stuff out of my budget, and it’s put me in the mood to streamline the rest of my life.

So starting tomorrow, I’m diving into the shelves, boxes, bins, and drawers of my stuff that are all around the house.  We’ll see how long my ambition for this project lasts.  I’m betting as long as it takes for me to reach the closet.  If I don’t show up here on Thursday, one of you may have to come dig me out.

In the meantime, please feel free to offer encouragement in the form of your successes in cleaning out all the clutter.  Tell me it’s all worth it, and that doing so will result in some grand epiphany (or the discovery of a hidden stash of cash).

I Think Fate Reads This Blog

22 Nov

In Monday’s post, I said that I was thankful for times of ill health because they reminded me that good health is not guaranteed.

Boy, did that one come back to test me quickly.

On Tuesday evening, my roommate came into the living room complaining of abdominal pain.  Within an hour and a half, we were sitting in the Emergency Department with a plastic basin and a fairly judgmental audience.

Here’s the kicker- my roommate doesn’t have health insurance.  She’s stuck in that terrible time frame between being approved for a plan and the effective date.  If this had happened just nine days later, she would have been able to show her insurance card and get a mere $150 ER copay bill.  As it stands now, she’s likely to get a bill for over $6,000 (CT scans don’t come cheap, you know).

Just nine days later, and her kidney stone would have been covered by insurance.  Her prescriptions would have been covered too, and the $220 total for pain meds & six (six!!) anti-nausea pills would have been a tenth of that.  Instead, I have two unfilled prescriptions sitting on the kitchen table and a roommate taking pain medication left over from a separate injury.

Three months ago, it was me in health insurance limbo, praying that I didn’t get sick or injured in the six weeks between aging off my dad’s plan and the effective date of my employer’s insurance plan.  I just barely made it though.  I used my new insurance plan ten days after it went into effect, after a plane trip caused my ear drum to burst.  My insurance company covered my doctor visit and my two resulting prescriptions.  I won’t be seeing a bill for any of those.

I’m one of the lucky ones.  But it shouldn’t have to be that way.

So, maybe I’m not thankful for times of illness today.  I am not thankful for people having to wait for effective dates to get health care.  I am not thankful for people facing eighteen hour waits at inner-city EDs just to be seen by a doctor.  And I am not thankful for huge bills being levied on those least able to pay.

What I am thankful for is that after seven hours in the ED, my roommate was discharged and is doing well.  I’m thankful that in nine days, she will be covered by health, vision, and dental insurance.  I’m especially thankful that we live in an area where the local hospital can see uninsured patients who won’t be able to pay their bills, and still keep their doors open.

Heck, I’m even thankful for the intent behind the Healthcare Reform Act- that quality health care access should not be tied to economic privilege.  (I say intent, because I’ve read the Healthcare Reform Act.  I’ve read four incarnations of it, actually.  It doesn’t ensure quality health care access to everyone, not in its current form.  I am holding out hope that this changes through the amendment process and soon, which either makes me an eternal optimist or a masochist.)

I suppose my ultimate point today is the same as Monday- that I’m trying to be thankful for the good as well as the bad.  It’s sometimes harder to do this than others, but if I can’t accomplish it today, on the ultimate day of Giving Thanks, then there might be less hope for me than for Congressional consensus (oooh, political zingers.)

Being Thankful

19 Nov

It’s the week of Thanksgiving here in the US, which means that everyone on my social media streams are busily posting about how thankful they are for all kinds of things: parents, kids, pets, houses, health, etc.  It’s lke a Thanksgiving feast for the soul over there.

However, there is something missing.  Everyone is thankful for all the good things in their lives, but no one seems to be thankful for the bad.  To me, that’s only being half grateful.  After all, without the bad things in our lives, how could we ever appreciate the good?  So, my Thanksgiving list is a bit different from everyone else’s this year:

 

I’m thankful for the times that I’ve been unemployed because they teach me that I am more than a paycheck or a job title.

I’m thankful for times of ill health because I realize that good health is not a given, and to treasure every second with those I love.

I’m thankful for student loan debt because it gives me empathy for those with financial stuggles, and hope for a brighter future.

I’m thankful for those who disagree with me because they keep me from being complacent and close-minded.

I’m thankful for cars that break down and electronics that fail because they remind me that I survived without them before and I can do it again.

I’m thankful for car accidents because pain-free days don’t go unappreciated.

I’m thankful for missteps in my spiritual life because they force me to reevaluate and strive to do better.

I’m thankful for the losses in my life, because they make the findings more joyous.

I’m thankful for the failures, because they make the successes sweeter.

But most of all, I am thankful for my less than perfect life because true perfection is incomplete.

A Secret Revealed

16 Nov

Ok, I don’t have a Thursday (or Friday, as it is now) post this week, because I am a) on yet another business trip, b) recovering from a week of burst ear drums and the resulting vertigo issues, and c) just too lazy to be clever at the moment.

So, I’ve decided to let you all in on one of my secret projects.  Back in February, I talked about NaNoWriMo, and how it had impacted my paycheck from November.  The short of if it, I wrote a 50,000 word novel last November.  This past week, I wrote the final lines on it.  Now, I’m doing a final polishing edit before I decide what to do with it next.  Below is the sample I posted on the NaNoWriMo website last year, which is about 1/4 of the first chapter.  I probably won’t leave this up here forever, but I’ve been talking about this novel for almost two years now, and I figured it was time to show people that it’s not made up.

So, if you like it- Yay!  If you don’t, then I totally didn’t write this and I’m just pretending that I did to protect a friend’s identity.

Northgate

            Nothing ever changes in Northgate.  The day begins with the city bell, hung high about the Council House, tolling First Light, and ends with the same bell tolling Last Light.  The same bell, the same tolling, and the same times, day after day after day.  Even after the sun sets and night falls, the routine is the same.  Some call it predictable and safe.  They claim it is what protects us from Darkness.  I call it boring.  And it definitely doesnt protect us from Darkness.

Simone sighed and set down her pencil.  She knew she wouldn’t be able to turn in the page as written, and it would take another hour to rewrite the assignment properly.  Combined with the other schoolwork she had left to complete and the fact that the store still needed to be cleaned, Simone knew it would be one of those nights when she didn’t get to sleep before First Light.  At least she had that going for her.

The bell started its slow tolling, announcing Last Light in the City.  Simone pictured the path of the sound- the deep peals winding their way through neighborhoods and around stone buildings, compressing to fit down narrow alleys and expanding to fill the open-air marketplace.  It took the sound nearly half a minute to cross the City and reach the store, according to the Council-controlled timepiece on the wall.  That gap of sound had always bothered Simone.  A lot could happen in thirty seconds.

The problem was that it was the same routine every night.  The same famed 10 Steps to close the shop, the same four bags of trash to be dragged out to the alley, the same hours of schoolwork that awaited her upstairs, and the same promise that it would all be the same again tomorrow.  There was no variety, and no chance for escape.  Nights like this, Simone felt like she’d trade her left arm for even the smallest change of pace. Everything was the same, and the sameness was overwhelmingly oppressive.

Just like every night, Simone dragged the trash bags down the hallway.  Just like always, she hit the latch on the alley exit door with her hip, and just like always, it swung open with a creak.  Just like always, Simone swung the trash bags off the steps, and waited to hear the same sounds of the bags hitting the cobblestone ground. But this night, the sounds were different.

“Ow!” accompanied the landing of the first trash bag.  Surprised, Simone let go of the second bag too early and it broke open as it rolled down the three concrete steps.

“Eres tu simbali” Simone muttered under her breath, fumbling along the inside wall for the light switch.

“Swearing in Orcian will not help your case.”  replied a voice in the dark.

Simone found the light switch.  She glared at the boy sprawled on the ground at the bottom of the steps.  He sat rubbing his head, and from the looks of his hair, the first trash bag had caught him right in the face.  It had broken open, and the boy was covered with bits of papers and the remains of Simone’s noodle-based dinner.  It would have been funny, except that it wasn’t funny at all.

“What are you doing down there?  And what case?”  Simone demanded. This was not the kind of difference that she had wanted.

“The case to be heard by the Council, when I demand your rationale for throwing refuse at me.  They look poorly upon those who use such vulgar vocabulary, by the way.”  The boy replied.

“Not as poorly as they look upon street rats.  I’ll ask you again, what are you doing down there?”

“At the moment, suffocating.”  The boy said, shoving the black trash bag off of him and attempting to pick the larger pieces of trash from his dark-colored tunic.  He took a closer look at his arm, and looked up at Simone with glee.

“And bleeding to death.”  He said, brandishing his forearm.  There was a faint trickle of blood across his wrist.

“I don’t see anything.”  Simone said.  “Besides the three layers of dirt you’re covered in.”

“Four, if you count my most recent bath of filth, thanks to you.”  The boy stood up and took a step into the light.  Simone was surprised to see that, even standing two steps above him, the boy was almost eye level with her.  His hair, the parts which weren’t covered in sauce, was a sandy blonde, and his eyes were a deeper blue than the ocean.  Even covered in dirt, he was good-looking.  Really good-looking.

“So, are you going to just stand there or are you going to invite me in?”  The boy said.

Simone shook herself back to reality, and remembered why she’d been glaring at the boy in the first place.

“Why would I invite a filthy street rat into my home?”  She asked.

“Because while the Council might not care if you mistreat me, they probably will care that one of their shops is being run by a 16-year-old.”

“My parents own this shop.” Simone said.

“Yes?  And where are they?”  the boy asked.

Simone’s jaw dropped in horror, but she covered it quickly.  How had this boy found out her secret?  Her mind raced, trying to find a way out of the situation.

“Let me in out of the darkness, and I’ll be bound to keep your secrets.”  The boy said.

The words of the Custom- the Request for Asylum.  It was a bold move, and Simone suspected that it was because the boy had run out of other options for gaining entrance.  By law, Simone could not refuse admittance to her home if a stranger spoke the Request, but surely that law didn’t apply to filthy street rats?

The boy waited, standing in the pool of yellow light in the middle of the alley, staring at Simone with eyes that contained entire worlds in their depths, covered in dirt and garbage.  She knew it would be a mistake to let him in, that she would be risking everything in the store, and possibly her life as well.  But those eyes, those eyes that were familiar and alien at the same time, kept spinning her thoughts and allowing plausible excuses to creep into her mind.  No, she couldn’t let him in.  The risk was too great.

A faraway scream tore through the silence of the night.  There was silence for half a minute, then the bell began its ominous tolling.  This was no Last Light toll.  This toll was counting the number of those Taken.  As it rang its sixth, the boy’s eyes met Simone’s, and she saw true fear clearly in their depths.

“Please.” He said.  And against her better judgement, Simone stood aside and let him in.

Quick Turnaround

12 Nov

I am home from my first business trip- five days in San Antonio, Texas.  It was pretty enjoyable.  The hotel was nice, the food was excellent, and I learned quite a bit more about the company and our clients.  Even after processing it all over the weekend, I still think it was a great trip, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to go.

Even if I did manage to burst an eardrum on the plane and develop a sinus/ear infection.

So, you know, pros and cons there.

On Saturday, I used my new health insurance (hooray new health insurance!) to go visit Urgent Care.  I got two medications for my ears, and I’m glad to report that they are definitely working.  I can hear almost properly, and more importantly, I can move without feeling the fluid in my ears slosh around like a kayaker in a hurricane.

Naturally, I have to get back on a plane tomorrow for business trip #2.  This time, it’s five days in Los Angeles.

Hopefully, the plane trip won’t mess with my ears, and I won’t get a seatmate who just has to share his newest virus acquisition.  Luckily, I’ve come up with a plan for the germs:

A) clowns totally belong in bubbles. Like, at all times. Bonus if they are steel-reinforced bubbles with no exits. B) This will also settle any armrest territory disputes that may arise with seatmates.

Plans for next week aside, I’ve spent today doing all those tasks that need doing before you go out of town for a week:

  • doing laundry
  • cleaning out the bunny cage
  • cleaning the bathroom & bedroom
  • doing more laundry
  • deciding which books to bring on this trip
  • checking on why the dryer stopped drying halfway through the cycle
  • arguing with the bunny over possession of a sock that missed the laundry basket
  • answering personal emails, voicemails, etc
  • threatening the dryer with a monkey wrench when it stops drying yet again
  • catching up on a week’s worth of TV shows
  • giving up on the dryer and finding rope to make a clothesline
  • realizing it’s raining outside
  • realizing you packed for the trip without consulting the weather forecast
  • having to repack your suitcase
  • arguing with the bunny over possession of yet another sock
  • spending an hour consoling the bunny after you shouted at her over a sock
  • spending twenty minutes sewing the new holes in said sock
  • discovering that it’s 2 pm and the suitcase is not packed, the clothes are not dry, the books are not selected, the bunny is still pouting, and you’ve forgotten to eat lunch… and breakfast.

I never thought I say this, but thank goodness Thanksgiving is next week.  I’m off from the full-time job, and am looking forward to a comparatively relaxing week of working the retail job.

This is either a Wal-Mart on Black Friday or the boarding line for my next flight.  At this point, I’m not sure which.

While you all decide if you’d rather be stuck in the crowd or be the one holding the key on the other side of the locked door, I’m off to do battle with a clothes dryer.  And pack.  And, you know, eat.

Being Fancy

6 Nov

I just did a very fancy thing.

I ordered over-priced salmon from room service, just because I could.

Have I mentioned lately how awesome my job is?

Let me explain a bit more.  This week is my company’s annual client conference, which means I’m in a swanky hotel in San Antonio (I consider any hotel with a soft bed and a cool shower/bath swanky though, so keep that in mind).  It also means I get a per diem to eat.

For me, eating away from home can be very troublesome.  Being allergic to wheat & caffeine means having to be very careful at unfamiliar restaurants.  Being allergic to alcohol as well means networking events can get real awkward real fast.  Luckily, my new co-workers have either been totally cool with my allergies or haven’t even asked.  I guess the fact that they’re mostly all nurses has a lot to do with this.

But back to the point of this post- my doing a fancy thing in a fancy hotel.  It got me thinking- what kinds of fancy things would I do if I either a) had an unlimited expense account, or b) had money of my own?  I’ve come up with a list.  I call it: “Katie’s List of Fancy Things To Do When The Money Finally Comes Rolling In.”  (I need to work on that title some more.)

Katie’s List of Fancy Things To Do When The Money Finally Comes Rolling In

1. Live in a place with a really cool bathtub.  I love water- bath water, sea water, lake water, pool water, even rain water- it doesn’t matter.  I just love the feeling of being in water, where everything seems a little bit lighter and a lot cleaner.  To that end, I am a big fan of a quality bathtub.  I’ve had to suffer most of my life with a functional-yet-flawed bathtub.  When I have money (and am living in a place where bathroom renovations are approved), the first project will be building the perfect bath.

Not saying it has to be exactly like this… but it’s not a bad starting point either.

2. Have a bunch of bunnies.  No, definitely not those kinds of bunnies.  I’m talking about the actual four-legged fuzzy-eared lagomorph-order-belonging woodland creatures.  I already have one.  I would like more.  Specifically, a few of the Angora-variety.  Let’s face it- I’m never going to be an exceptionally fashionable person.  I often go out in public with cat, dog, rabbit, or some combination of the three’s fur on my clothes.  So, if I had Angora rabbits, I could at least once be wearing an Angora sweater.  (That was a long way to go for a pretty lame joke, but there it is.)  Also, look at these things!  How could you not want one?

These are real bunnies. Seriously. I’ll give you a moment to stop squealing at the cuteness.

3. Stay at swanky hotels.  No more Holiday Inns for me.  When I have money, it will be only hotels with “plaza” in the name for me, because nothing says “I’m a swanky hotel” more than having the word “plaza” in the title.  It’s true.  In fact, no hotel can call itself a plaza hotel unless it contains at least one room with a view not obstructed by a building/parking lot/ dumpster (and I definitely didn’t just make that rule up.)

You can just feel the swankiness, can’t you?

That’s it for the list.  I could add a lot more, but my dinner just arrived.  At my door.  On a rolling cart.  Naturally, I can’t let my dinner just sit around and wait for me.  A dinner this nicely presented deserves to be eaten right away.  So, I’m going to be totally fancy and eat my room service dinner while watching TV.  You know, as the fancy people do.

My dinner showed up better dressed than I ever am.

The rest of you plebeians can enjoy  your non-fancy dinners and your election results on your non-fancy TV sets.

You fellow Americans did remember to vote today, right?  Fancy or not, it’s important.

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