Sunday, October 28, 2007

RBOC: Weekend Puke Edition

  • Lucas, who was diagnosed yesterday with a pretty nasty stomach virus after four days of puking ("24-hour flu" my ass), is doing a bit better. He hasn't vomited (yet) today (knock on wood). Just as I was finishing this post, he threw up again. That makes five days of puking. Ugh. Plus he's kind of whiny and he's not eating much.
  • While Luke still refers to Sesame Street as "Melmo," his affections have been transferred from Elmo to Ernie. He makes me rewind the DVR so he can watch the Ernie sketches, especially the bathtub scenes, several times in a row.
  • Has Ernie been using the same rubber ducky since time immemorial? Because it's looking pretty icky these days.
  • Lucas has some Sesame Street bathtub fingerpaint/liquid soap. Thanks to the labeling of these bottles, he now refers to the colors red, yellow, and blue (words he hasn't even begun to use) as Elmo, Bird, and Cookie respectively.
  • I'd just like to point out to the Toys R Us marketing folks that "PINKtacular" is a really stupid word, and possibly even a troglodytic one.
  • Finally finished detailing the Camry today and listed it for sale on Craigslist and If you live in the area and are looking for a very reliable car, check it out. Note that, although tempted, I did not use the word "BEIGEtacular" in the ad.
  • In the last few days, Lucas finally started using a couple of words to indicate assent. Previously, he disagreed with us by saying "no," and agreed with silence or by repeating a word related to the proposition. ("Melmo!") Now he says "yeah" or "uh-huh." Baby steps. . .
  • The other day while Lucas was staring at my computer screen, he muttered, "penis." Usually he talks about what's on my screen or reaches for the keyboard while insistently saying "button!" (I assure you there wasn't a penis on the computer screen.) It puzzled me, because although we use the word penis to describe his "private parts," he hasn't seem much interested in penises. But then this morning I watched him flip through the awesome children's book Your Personal Penguin, and the entire time he was muttering "penis" under his breath. Mystery solved: "penis" = penguin, much as "rayniz" = raisins. The boy, he has a bit of verbal dyslexia, as well as some sins of consonant omission.
  • Big news: I invited the director of the California Academy of Sciences to come talk to my graduate museum studies seminar, and he said yes! I'm so excited, and some of the other faculty are a bit anxious about the visit, since he's never come to visit the campus before. How anxious? I was reminded via e-mail yesterday that I am to provide him with water, which made me giggle because it sounded like I was dogsitting. Teehee. Here's hoping all my students do the reading so that they can ask him some intelligent questions. (BTW, if you haven't checked out the awesomely green building that is to be the new Cal Academy, you should definitely visit the site.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Health care frustration


(a) On Wednesday night, Lucas puked all over me, but otherwise was running around and seeming to feel fine.

(b) On Thursday, we kept Lucas home from daycare because he still couldn't keep food down. Between pukings, he was in good spirits.

(c) On Friday, Lucas returned to daycare. As far as we know, he didn't throw up at daycare. Although he's usually a good eater, he only ate the fruit in his lunch. Of course, by the time we found this out, the doctor's office was closed.

(d) On Friday night, Lucas didn't want to eat much. I got him to eat about half a pear. An hour after eating it, he threw it up. But otherwise he seemed in good spirits. I hoped he would be able to eat on Saturday morning.

(e) It's now Saturday morning and Lucas is showing NO interest in eating. This means he's now gone 2.5 days eating hardly anything. And of course it's Saturday, so the doctor's office is closed.

I went online to my health insurer--Blue Cross of California--to try to find an urgent care clinic nearby that's covered by Blue Cross. I'm not sure he's at the ER stage, since he seems to be doing fine otherwise, wanting to play and appearing otherwise to be in good health.


(1) When I went to look for an urgent care center, the Blue Cross site didn't have my plan listed under its many health plan options in its drop-down menu. When I chose what I thought would be the closest type of plan, no urgent care center showed up as available.

(2) So I tried to register on the site. It asked for my 9-digit ID number. Next to "Member ID" on my card, there is a 12-digit ID number, 4 letters and 8 numbers. No reasonable combination of those numbers allows me to register on the site. It said I could use my Social Security number, so I entered that instead, and repeatedly encountered an "internal error" message.

(3) So I went back into the drop-down list of health plans and selected another random one. And what do you know? I was prompted to download a list of Urgent Care clinics. And guess what? There isn't one in my county covered by my insurer. Yes, I live in a state of 40 million or so people, and my insurer, I imagine, covers many thousands (if not tens of thousands) of people from my university, and yet it offers no urgent care clinics in this county. The nearest one is about 45 minutes away. Nice, eh?

(4) So I did a Google search for urgent care centers in my county, and one came up at the local hospital where Lucas was birthed (and where we are, alas, very familiar with the ER because of Luke's propensity for spiking very high fevers very quickly). "Great," I thought. "I'll call over there and see if they happen to accept my specific insurance plan." So I called the number listed on the website, and a very nice advice nurse explained that she can't give me advice because Lucas's doctor is in the university health care system, not the hospital's health care system. She told me to call our doctor's office.

(5) I call Dr. Wonderful's office. The answering service takes my info and says they'll have the doctor on call give us a call. I'm not holding my breath. Dr. Wonderful is indeed a wonderful doctor, but the health care bureaucracy working in my favor on a weekend? Highly unlikely.

So it looks like we'll be taking Lucas to the ER for a visit that, unless he ends up having some kind of digestive blockage, will place us in a group that everyone complains about: people who use the ER for non-emergency services because their health plans don't cover regular care. But you know what? My health plan is supposed to be a GOOD one--I pay extra for it, and we do have some choice of providers and care.

I'm pissed. I've tried to do what I can to lobby for health care for the poor and working class in this state, and to ensure coverage for all children. But here I am, fully insured, and I can't even get my sick child to see a friggin' doctor because the extent of his illness didn't present itself until Friday night/Saturday morning.

Good fucking job, America.

UPDATE: Just a moment ago an honest-to-goodness doctor did call and said there's a Saturday urgent care clinic closer than any of those listed by my insurer--but still not in this county. He's going to call and get an appointment for Lucas. Yay for doctors who are available to return calls at 7 in the morning!

I'm still pissed, however, at the system.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Debt: How it happened, how we'll get out of it

It's my secret shame, Mr. Trillwing's and my financial debt. But I need to write about it, to tell people about it, because it's blocking some of my other creative energies at the moment.

Where we are today
I won't share specific numbers here. Let's just say that if you add up student loans, the debt Mr. Trillwing brought into our relationship, and the credit card debt we racked up when I was in grad school and we needed emergency dentistry, car repairs, or veterinary surgery, we're up to our eyeballs in debt. Over the past 6 years, we've probably paid off more than $50,000 in consumer debt (largely Mr. Trillwing's debt, and largely paid off by cashing out his profit-sharing account from a previous employer).

Yet despite those payments (monthly and lump sum), we have more debt now that when we made that first giant payment from his retirement account. Our three major sources of debt are (in order of largest stress--but not largest amount--to smallest stress) one credit card's debt, a loan from my parents, and student loan debt.

How I initially got into consumer debt, and how things got worse quickly
Before starting my Ph.D. here, I always paid off my credit card balance in full. But the move to our current fair city cost us $500 more than we had at the time, and that amount went on the credit card. That was the start of The Shame and The Stress I now carry. We couldn't pay it off that month, or the next one. Both of us took big pay cuts when I came up here to grad school. My income was slashed in half; Mr. T lost nearly a third of his. And our cost of living here is higher than it was in Long Beach.

Then almost immediately Mr. T's 10 years of meth use (in the 1980s, loooong before I arrived on the scene and could chastise him) came back to haunt us in the form of necessary dental care (and Mr. T's $1000/year dental coverage wasn't going to cut it. The dentist declared he needed about $40,000 worth of work. So far we've put in about $8,000-$10,000, and that's just to keep up with the deterioration, not to get him any new teeth).

Our tactics
We borrowed money from my parents to pay down the rest of Mr. T's high-interest credit card and bank debt that he brought into the relationship. We've paid off about 1/3 of that amount, but I was hoping to have it all paid off within the next two years. That's not going to happen. It's embarrassing to me and, I think, to my parents that we haven't been paying as much each month as I had proposed. My parents don't need the money, but I need to preserve my veneer of financial responsibility.

We have had a few successes. When I was working two jobs plus freelancing, I managed to put away enough money into stocks and mutual funds each month to eventually cover the several thousand dollars I had to pay for Luke's birth.

More setbacks
I thought when I finished the Ph.D. and took a staff job, we'd be out of the woods. But then because I was working full time, we had to put Luke in daycare. We also needed to move into a bigger place because no one was getting quality sleep when we shared a bedroom with Lucas. So my shiny new salary was eaten up almost immediately by daycare costs and higher rent.

And still the credit card debt mounts. We don't charge groceries or anything like that on it--strictly some small monthly bills and emergencies.

Plus now my student loans are due. I started with the graduated repayment plan, which means I pay only $200/month. But even that is a stretch.

Looking ahead
Because of my museum studies job, I'm able to put a lot more money toward the credit card (my primary debt headache) this month, in November, and in December than I have been for quite a while.

And my parents recently GAVE us their very nice older car (a Toyota Avalon), which means we can sell our Camry. My mechanic says to list it for slightly above Blue Book because Camrys sell well in this area.

If we get the full amount for the Camry, and if I put 75% of my take-home museum studies pay toward the credit card, I'll have paid off 63% of my credit card debt by the end of the year from those sources alone. Another reimbursement check I'm expecting will bring that amount to 69%. A freelance project I'm working on will raise it to 74%.

The remainder will have to come, I think, from selling other stuff, unless Mr. T's one remaining freelance client needs a lot of design work done, in which case we might be able to actually pay off the damn thing by the end of January, at which point I would hope to begin paying back my debt to my parents with much greater speed.

My goal is to be debt-free, except for student loans, by mid-2009, as well as to each month set aside some cash to recreate the emergency savings I had before I started grad school. It's a crazy goal, actually, considering the amount. And this assumes we don't have another baby before then, or any other financial emergencies (unlikely!).

How I'm keeping motivated
Seeing the credit card statement shrink is a fine motivation. But reading personal finance and frugality blogs also is giving me some good ideas for economizing. I also am totally inspired by bloggers' stories of paying down huge debts--much larger than my own--within a couple of years.

The take-home message
I was pretty certain of my ability to manage my finances throughout grad school. After all, I'd never had any debt except for student loans (which were always in deferment, since I was still in school) and car payments (which I paid off during grad school).

But I was totally unprepared for the amount of money that is needed to (a) sustain the health of a partner whose health insurance was less than stellar, (b) care for a middle-aged (now senior) dog, and (c) birth a child, let alone live moderately comfortably in this town. It just isn't possible to do so with one partner in grad school and one making an average salary.

I wish someone had warned me that grad school was such a debt trap, and that the older you get, the more of a debt trap it can be (because of partner issues, children, changing needs, job search, etc.). I knew I'd be racking up student loan debt, but consumer debt? Never! Not me!

So if you're just beginning grad school, please, please learn from my example. Keep a wary eye out for looming financial emergencies, and economize whenever and wherever possible so that you do have savings for those human, pet, and auto care needs.

I also welcome your suggestions to speed my debt pay-down, especially if you've been where I am now. I'm already doing the usual things--calling for a lower interest rate, selling books on Amazon, etc.--but if you have creative methods for generating some quick cash that don't involve selling bodily fluids or ova or euthanizing the dog (whose care is a major cash sink), I'd love to hear about them. Leave 'em in the comments.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

International acaDemic Writing Month

What are you doing for International acaDemic Writing Month (InaDWriMo)? Come on--you know you have a project or grant to draft or finish up!

I'll be revising like crazy--one article, one dissertation-to-book--and keeping track of my page count.

Head on over to Dr. Brazen Hussy's place to sign up.

The Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme

I was tagged by Field Notes from an Evolutionary Psychologist for a meme. It was started by PZ Myers at Pharyngula as a means of demonstrating evolution in cyberspace.

First, the rules:
There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".
Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:
* You can leave them exactly as is.
* You can delete any one question.
* You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question.
For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...", or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".
* You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".
* You must have at least one question in your set, or you've gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you're not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions. Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.
So, without further ado:
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Pharyngula.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Flying Trilobite.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is A Blog Around the Clock.
My great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Primate Diaries.
My great-great-great-great-grandparent is Thus Spake Zuska.
My great-great-great-grandparent is a k8, a cat, a mission.
My great-great-grandparent is Monkeygirl.
My great-grandparent is DancingFish.
My grandparent is "No One".
My parent is Field Notes.

The best children's novel in SF/Fantasy is: Bunnicula
The best recent movie in comedy is: SuperBad
The best uplifting song in country music is: Johnny Cash's "Man in Black"
The best cult novel in classic fiction is: Pride and Prejudice
The best high-fat food in Mexican cooking is: Quesadillas
The best dissertation-related words I ever received from a scholar are: "Just write the damn thing."

I am propagating this meme on to anyone else who cares to replicate, and these bloggers:
Breena Ronan

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Two birthdays

I wanted to note here two birthdays:

First, this blog was born on October 22, 2005. It is six weeks younger than Lucas. I began The Clutter Museum at the beginning of a very tumultuous academic year. I was going on the job market for the first time, learning to be a mom, teaching, and finishing my dissertation. In the process of writing here and reading others' blogs, I have learned so much about motherhood, academia, feminism, and myself. Many thanks for your support and advice in this space and across the academic blogosphere.

Second, my grandfather was born on October 19, 1917. He passed away from leukemia in 1991, shortly before I turned 16. Had he survived, he would have turned 90 this week. He was at once a very simple and very complex man, and I wish often that I could talk to him now that I'm an adult. Even more, I wish that my grandmother, who is a hale 84, could have enjoyed all those additional years of companionship with the man she loved. Earlier this week I called my parents, sister, and aunts and reminded them to call Grandma on Grandpa's 90th, and those I reached were grateful for the reminder.

As I was growing up, my grandfather lived four houses from my parents'. The proximity to my grandparents made it possible for both of my parents to work, as Grandma and Grandpa would care for me before and after school. They also let us spend the night on weekends, treating us to lavish breakfasts in the mornings.

I wish I could offer the same benefit to Lucas. After all, I was the fourth generation of my family to live on that block in Long Beach, and wouldn't it be extraordinary to make it five? But circumstances are such that Long Beach does not have the kinds of opportunities I seek, the schools are not places where I would wish to send Lucas (even though I'm a big supporter of public schools and was educated in that school district myself), and the cost of living in LB is even higher than it is here. For example, today we could purchase a home on my parents' formerly very middle-class street for a cool $1.3 - $1.5 million--if I could find a bargain.

I want Lucas to know his grandparents as well as I knew mine. And right now, that's not happening. It makes me sad.

Anyway, happy birthday, Grandpa Lind, wherever your spirit may be. And happy birthday to this tiny little corner of the blogosphere, to everyone who has kept my own spirits high.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Up way too late

. . .so I'll make this short.

I've been in Iowa the past few days (am flying home today) for a volunteer weekend for alumni to reconnect with the college and with each other. It's been awesome.

I went to a presentation this morning on how alumni can help current students think through their life and career choices. The guy from the career development office said something like "Grinnell students are interested in so many things, and they're good at so many things, but they hate to make choices." Because, he said, they feel that would be cutting off possibilities and passions.

Good god does this man ever know his Grinnellians. (Or at least me.)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Craptastic day, tempered here and there with hope

Craptastic item #1: $800 for car repairs

We're selling our Toyota Camry because my parents gave us their slightly less aged Toyota Avalon. Which would be good news except the Camry needed a couple cosmetic fixes: the plastic driver's side handle broke off last week, and the antenna motor has been making horrible grinding noises, without actually raising or lowering the antenna, every time we turn on or off the car or the radio. So I took the car to Just About Perfect Mechanic in order to get it fixed. He reminded me that I'd need to get a current smog certificate in order to sell the car. No problem--Camrys always pass smog.

Except, apparently, our Camry today. Which puzzled Just About Perfect Mechanic, so he went looking for the problem. Ends up there was some kind of leak in the intake system, which ballooned the charges to $800, and that's after Just About Perfect Mechanic fixed the antenna free of charge and gave us a discount on the smog.

The good news is he said Camrys around here tend to sell really well, that I should price it even above its Blue Book value, and that I should make a flyer to post on the bulletin board in the lobby of his shop because people are always coming in looking for good cars. So one of this weekend's projects is to clean the car's interior as best I can before I take it for a final professional detailing inside and out, then advertise it hither and yon. Keep your fingers crossed for us, and if you have any car-selling tips, please share them. We usually run our cars into the ground, so this is new territory for us.

Craptastic item #2: Didn't get the job

Had a job interview yesterday to be associate director of the university's humanities institute. I was one of five final candidates out of more than 45 applicants. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), there were people who were more qualified for the job. Fantastic Mentor, who is currently the director of the institute, tells me that I interviewed very well. This is the same job she offered to me outright on the same day I accepted my current job--but then she learned she needded to list it. On the one hand, I'm glad she attracted such a terrific candidate pool. On the other hand, the job would have meant some really challenging work, as well as a higher salary, and I'd get to work with Fantastic Mentor.

By the way, my favorite question from the interview: "What do you think about ambiguity?" To which I replied: "That's a pretty ambiguous question." Which earned me some laughter from the committee, some elaboration on their part, and some time to formulate my answer.

And I do like my current job, but I'm trying to look long-term, and I don't see myself staying in this position forever. The last guy in the humanities associate director job? I'm told he held it for about 20 years.

Craptastic item #3: Back-stabber

It has come to my attention through several channels (including one, accidentally, today*) that someone who consistently treated me as if I was doing good work has been bad-mouthing that exact same work to People Who Matter A Good Deal to Me. I saw how poorly this person treated one Person Who Matters to Me, but I didn't know until the past couple of months that this discourtesy had also extended to me. I must occasionally work with this person, mostly as a courtesy to this person's department, and I am not thrilled about it. I did not need to be reminded of this person's comments today. Craptastic item #2 + Craptastic item #3 = a very, very deflated trillwing.

So I'm trying to fight off the self-pity partying, and thanks to Mr. Trillwing and Lucas I'm mostly succeeding. Still: Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

*If you are one of the people I know IRL who wears loud shirts, I'd appreciate you not mentioning this bit to Brilliant Documentarian Who Matters to Me. I will probably bring it up with Brilliant D at some point soon, but it's kind of a sticky wicket. So hush!