Thursday, April 9, 2009

Insult to Injury

I got my hair cut today. I tend to keep it pretty short and disheveled (maintenance-free, baby!), so I just go to the cheap-o Great Clips place around the corner where I can get it cut for $8 with a coupon. Usually, my once-a-month visit is quiet, quick, and pleasant. Today, though? Lacking the pleasant part.

Now, I've been going grey for quite some time. Around 17 or 18, I started to notice my first grey hair, and it's been getting steadily worse since then. Now, I'm downright salt-and-pepper. I'm generally okay with that, and it's probably helped my career a bit. I've found that if I keep my hair short and maybe put a little gel in it, it's not nearly as noticeable to most folks. It doesn't hurt that I'm also 6'4", so there aren't a whole lot of people getting a good view of the top of my head on a regular basis.

Today though, it was an issue. The stylist (someone I'd never seen before) and I were chatting as she trimmed my flowing locks (ha!); just the general chit-chat that always occurs. Somehow, we got to a point in the conversation where I mentioned that I had just had a milestone birthday this past Sunday. Here's how that conversation went:

Me: "Yeah, I just had a milestone birthday this past Sunday."

Her: "Oooo, let me guess how old you, forty?"

Me (noticeably peeved, I'm sure): "Yeah, um. Actually, no, I just turned thirty."

Her: "Oh my gosh. I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to..."

Me: "That's okay, I'm starting to get used to...."

Her: "It's just that I saw all that grey hair on the apron and thought....I mean, you're REALLY grey for thirty."

Wow. Gee, thanks, lady. You sure know how to brighten my day.

At least I only paid $8 for the abuse.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Things Are A-Changin' Around the YFNN House...

Our house had some pretty gnarly pine trees at each corner of the house. Likely planted when the house was built (in 1986), they’d grown to over 20 feet tall and were ridiculously close to the house itself. They weren’t even all that attractive. Check out the pictures.

This caused some problems. First, every time the wind blew, the trees would sway a bit and rub against the house siding, or the windows. This always made some noise, usually annoyed us, and occasionally spooked our bossy dog. In addition, they were close enough to the house that their root systems were getting to be a concern for our basement and such. Then, last year, we got bagworms, and despite their manual removal and treatments, they slowly started to kill the trees. So, we decided that the trees had to come out.

Since the tree folks were going to removing at least four pine trees, we also had them remove an additional white pine that was diseased and encroaching on our deck, a large half-dead cherry tree in the center of our back yard (yeah, it was as dumb as it sounds), and a terribly unruly shrub that no matter how much we cut it back decided to take over an entire side of the house, preventing access to the lone outdoor hose spigot.

So, last Tuesday, the tree guys removed it all while I was at work. Apparently it only took a couple of hours and they left no damage and no debris. They did, however, leave the stumps, but those should be ground out shortly.

The next phase of the project includes reseeding certain areas with grass seed, planting new plants (of the placement and type I am unaware, but trust my wife’s judgment entirely), and finishing with mulch and such. That work should commence next week.

Right now though, I’m just looking at some stumps and bare dirt around the house, but I can already see that it’s going to look MUCH improved. The fact that it’s going to be less work, less worry, and give us more usable yard is even better.


ING Savings Rate and Other Ramblings

ING, Debt, and Savings

Well, ING Direct dropped their rate for their Orange Savings Account yet again. This time to 1.490% APY (1.50% APR). So, my money is now working a lot less hard for me than it was before.

Still, it’s way better than my brick and mortar bank’s rate (currently 0.05%), and our emergency fund money is safe there, so I’ll keep slowly piling up money there every week.

Also, with savings account rates so low right now, it’s a great time to pay off debt. Do it, do it, do it. Make sure you keep a bit of a cash cushion in savings, but don’t be afraid to pound out some debt right now.

We don’t currently carry any debt (aside from the house), but my student loans used to be at a fixed rate of 3.375% APR. When ING Direct was giving me 4.5% APY on my savings, it made sense to put money into savings, rather than pay off debt. Essentially, we made more money on interest on the savings than we paid in interest on the loan. Now, even with the student loan interest tax deduction, it makes more sense to pay off the loan.

If you’re on the fence about paying off some debt, DO IT. I can’t tell you how calming it feels not to have worry about car payments, credit cards, or other debt.

Insurance Coverage

In other news, we’ve finally completed the finalization of our bills from the hospital for our most recent trip. The hospital charged the insurance company over $16K for my wife and over $4K for the baby, but thankfully we were responsible for much, much less. It was interesting to see just how inflated the charges from the hospital were and how much they'd actually accept from the insurance company. Examples? You betcha.

My wife's stay: $16,757.40. Insurance paid just $4,261.84. I paid $1,065.46. So, basically the hospital wanted almost $17K, but only got a little over $5K. Ridiculous.

The epidural: $3,280. Insurance paid just $880. I paid $220.

Baby's stay: $4,261.84. Insurance paid just $1,032.24. I paid $258.06.

It's crazy to me that the hospitals are willing to write off so much money (and charge so much to begin with). I know the reasoning behind it all, but I don't want to get into it right now. Suffice it to say, the way we handle insurance is stupid (and no, universal healthcare would make it worse, not better). Maybe that'll be another post some day.

Friends and Food

Since the birth of our son, we’ve had loads of people over to visit and especially to bring us food. Before Baby was born, I kind of poo-pooed the idea of everyone bringing food to us, thinking that I’m still more than capable of putting together a meal for us every night. But, I’ll definitely admit that it’s pretty nice having something in the refrigerator or freezer that just needs to be heated. I wouldn’t have believed it before, but it’s a little difficult sometimes to find 30-45 uninterrupted minutes to put together a nutritious meal. We’ve been very fortunate to have such wonderful friends and family, especially ones that can cook!


Friday, February 20, 2009

I Wanna Be a Mean Parent

When I was a child, my parents were mean. Horribly mean. And, I hope that I will be just as mean as they were.

My parents weren't physically, emotionally, verbally, or psychologically abusive. That's not the kind of "mean" that I'm talking about.

When other kids had Oreos and ice cream for breakfast, we had to have eggs, toast, or cereal. When other kids had Pepsi and chips for lunch, we had sandwiches and carrots. While other kids had pizza and cake for dinner every night, my mean parents gave us healthy meats, potatoes, vegetables, and fruits. My parents were mean when it came to food.

We were required to be clean and wear clean clothes; other kids could wear the same clothes for days. We had to have normal, appropriate haircuts; other kids were allowed to be rebellious with their hair. We had to look “presentable.” Since I'm the oldest of their three children, I didn't have to wear hand-me-down clothes, but my mean parents made my brother and sister wear my old-but-still-good clothes, just to save money for other things like college. Can you imagine?

Our mean parents gave us bedtimes. And we had to stick to them! While other kids got to sleep until noon on the weekends and have no responsibilities, my parents completely disregarded child labor laws and gave us chores to do before we could play. We had to help with the dishes, set the table for meals, and keep our toys picked up. It was like they dreamed up chores for us to do in their sleep! Where did they come with these unreasonable expectations?!

Once we were in school, things got even worse. We had to walk to the bus stop, about a block away, for junior high and high school. Even in the rain and when it was cold. Other kids got to sit in their parents’ fancy car, even on nice days, avoiding the unrestricted socialization with the kids besides us with mean parents.

My brother, sister and I weren't allowed to be "sick" like our friends and miss school. Some other kids could stay home by themselves when they had a headache, hangnail or other critical ailment. Not us. In fact, I can distinctly remember my mother saying "You're not sick, you just have a cold. Get up and go to school." We never got pulled from school to go on vacations. "That's what summers are for," we were told.

They were mean about our grades, too. While other kids celebrated Cs and Ds and just passing classes, my parents accepted nothing less than As and Bs. Somehow they knew that if we got anything less, we weren't really trying. They had us figured out. They were actually involved in our education. They kept tabs on major projects, annoyed us about completing our homework, and constantly asked if we needed help. We were expected to speak properly, and write even better. It was horrible. Come graduation time, none of us were allowed to drop out and we were expected to go to college. Just awful.

Our mean parents made us go to church every week. We couldn't skip and stay home like some other kids. We weren't allowed to wear jeans or shorts and we had to look presentable. We had to pray, participate, and pay attention in our Sunday School classes and during the service. Unlike some of the other kids, we weren't allowed to climb on the pews, make noise, or fall asleep. It was completely unfair.

When we were older, my mean parents insisted on knowing where we were at all times. They had to know where we were going, when we were getting back, and who we were going with. If plans changed, we were required to call. If we were late, we had some explaining to do.

They set rules and boundaries for the three of us. They knew how to say "no" and weren't afraid to do so. Their "no"s were uncompromising and there was no negotiating the standards of behavior that were expected. Even if they didn't totally agree with everything, they worked as an unwavering team to set the bar high and expect the best from us, always.

Somehow, their mean-ness worked. All three of us grew up to be well-adjusted, polite and well-spoken. None of us have been arrested or talk like Valley Girls. We all hold college degrees (one of us, multiple!) and are now successful on our own. They taught us to be tough, smart, and strong. None of us are entitlement-minded or dependent on anyone or anything. We grew up to be honest, God-fearing, and self-motivated. And, we owe it all to our horrendously mean parents.

Now, with a child of my own, I hope to set the same mean standards and expectations. I can only hope to be as mean a parent as they were. I can’t wait to use one of my favorite phrases, “You’re not sick, you just have a cold,” and I can guarantee you that I will be filled with pride when my child finally calls me "mean."

So, if you're reading Mom and Dad, thanks for being so darn mean.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cool Things I Learned About Childbirth

If you've got a thing about blood, poop, or medical stuff, you may want to skip this post. Seriously.

As I stated in the previous post, I was heavily involved in the birth of our son about two weeks ago. I asked lots of questions, got as close as they'd allow, and kept involved as much as possible. I learned a tremendous amount, and had a great time on my little science-y field trip to the labor and delivery room with my wife. Here's just some highlights:

  • Contractions are surprisingly consistent and predictable, both in frequency and magnitude. I loved the live data that the monitors were able to acquire regarding heart rate, blood pressure, and the contractions.
  • Internal heart rate monitors (for the baby in utero) are actually screwed into his scalp when it's visible through the vagina. Like a tiny fishhook.
  • The baby's first poop is actually meconium and is from swallowing amniotic fluid and such.
  • Babies can have their first poop in utero. This can cause some problems immediately after birth, so the uterus is flushed out with clean fluid during delivery.
  • Once the baby's head is out, things move pretty quickly. No, I take that back. Darn near instantly.
  • Babies are sometimes born with splotches of vernix on them, which is a waxy, protective gunk. It kind of looks like soft, white cheese.
  • Umbilical cords are much thicker than I thought and when you cut it, it feels like you're cutting rubber tubing.
  • After the rest of the umbilical cord and placenta are delivered, you have to inspect the placenta to ensure that all of it made the trip out. Small pieces left inside are dangerous.
  • The placenta and umbilical cord pulsate a bit after they're out. Yes, it's as creepy as it sounds.
  • If the doctor decides that an episiotomy is needed, they're quick and precise with the scissors. If you blink, you miss it.
  • There are different levels of tearing, one to four. Level two isn't bad.
  • They put antibacterial gel on the baby's eyes shortly after birth to prevent infection.
  • Babies sometimes come out with fine hair on their back and shoulders called lanugo. It falls out after a little while.
  • There's a slick little tool that's used to perform the circumcision of newborns. It makes it darn near impossible to mess up. It even comes in different sizes. :)

All in all, it was a very educational trip.


My Really Good Reason

It’s been a while since I posted, and I have a really good reason, I promise.

On Monday, February 9th, my lovely wife gave birth to our perfect baby boy. As a first-time father, I can tell you that it was absolutely unbelievable on so many levels.

First, I thought I was prepared mentally and thought that I understood what it would feel like to be a father. I wasn’t. Not even close.

As soon as he was born, I cried. When I held him for the first time, I cried. When I changed his first diaper and held his little hand, I cried. Even now, over a week later, I look into his tiny eyes as I hold him and just cry tears of joy. I was completely unprepared and I don’t think I could have ever fully understood before it happened.

Second, I learned that my wife is probably the strongest woman I have ever met. I had no idea that she had it in her. She was absolutely incredible. To see the anguish and effort that she went through was absolutely amazing. She was a trooper. She was WonderWoman. I will never forget her toughness she showed through 18 hours of labor and over two hours of pushing. She was completely inspiring and now carries an ever greater air of self-confidence and strength. I love what this baby has done to her.

With the touch-feely, decidedly un-manly stuff out of the way, I have to say that from a nerdy point of view, the birth and subsequent few days was awesome. I’m not one to shy away from questions or interactions, so it was like a big science-y, medical vacation for me. I learned about epidurals, meconium, and contractions. I learned how the contraction monitors work, how internal heart rate monitors work, and the whys and hows of the birth of a child. I got to see the first glimpse of my son’s head, and hear his first cries. I got to cut his umbilical cord and help with APGAR scoring. Not being one to turn down a science-y opportunity to learn hands-on, I learned about the afterbirth and the delivery of the placenta (much to my wife’s chagrin).

On the day after my son was born, I asked many questions to the pediatrician, and even got to help with circumcision. While it sounds a little disturbing, it was awesome.

I was lucky that the doctors and nurses we had were so friendly and open to questions. I’m sure they don’t get too many people like me, so I’m glad they were so willing to share their knowledge and allow me to get a little closer than most probably dare.

After being involved every step of the way, I can assuredly say that the birth of a child truly is nothing short of a miracle.


(Isn't he cute?)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cops and Sandwiches

Every Wednesday, the guys in my engineering group and I go out for lunch together. We try hard to not discuss work-related things and a tasty lunch is usually punctuated with plenty of laughter and good-hearted insults. It’s a great camaraderie-building event.

Yesterday, we made a trip to one of our more common stops: the Ohio Deli, a local diner-like place that has GREAT sandwiches and soups. The Deli was recently featured on a Travel Channel show called Man vs. Food. The hero of the show travels the country, visiting different establishments that tout extreme eating challenges. The Ohio Deli’s challenge: The Dagwood.

The Dagwood is certainly a sandwich to behold. Named after the comic strip hero Dagwood Bumstead’s colossal sandwiches, the Dagwood is packed with 2-1/2 pounds of three different kinds of deli meat, tomato, lettuce onion, and mayo, all stuffed between a couple of mammoth hunks of sourdough. The platter comes with a heaping pile of the Deli’s delicious fries and a pickle spear. The challenge is to consume the entire platter in less than 30 minutes. According to their photo wall of fame, the current men’s record is 5-1/2 minutes. (!)

When we entered the Ohio Deli yesterday, we were seated next to some city police officers, who were getting ready to order. After some ribbing from his buddies, one of the officers decided to take the Deli’s Dagwood challenge.

When he got his platter, I think he was little shocked. The sandwich was towering over a huge expanse of fries. The waitress casually placed the platter in front of him (using two hands) and noted that he had until 12:10 to finish (30 minutes). To his credit, the cop really gave his all. He was able to finish the sandwich in about 15 minutes, after loosening his gunbelt. He really struggled through the fries and especially the pickle spear, but he finished with just a few ticks of the clock to spare.

H was, of course, heartily congratulated by our table, and the waitress took his picture and gave him his tee-shirt to commemorate his momentous achievement. As his group was getting up from the table, he commented to us that he sure hopes he doesn’t have to chase anybody or do anything strenuous the rest of the day and we certainly agreed.

However, as they were leaving, we looked out the window to our snow-covered streets, and saw a tiny woman in a BMW stuck at the stoplight. She had already exited her car and was desperately trying to shovel the piles of snow out from underneath the front end. Of course, the officers saw her and felt obligated to push her on her way.

While we couldn’t hear exactly what was being said, it was pretty clear that it was hig buddies thought it be absolutely hilarious that the Dagwood champion was quickly voted the guy to push the lady’s car. And push he did. He got her moving, but was he ever green in the face when he was done.

Of course, after such a display of manliness and heroism, two the guys at my table decided that next week they’re going to attempt the Dagwood challenge. I told them that I’ll happily just watch the clock for them and finished my Buffalo Chicken Spinner. I’ll let you know how next week goes.

I'll bet it goes delicious.