Sunday, July 19, 2009

Late July craziness

I have been busy lately with work, getting one of my teeth fixed (goodbye, $1000), baking (one day last week, I spent eight hours in the kitchen and made a massive dinner of homemade veggie casserole, focaccia bread, fruit salad, salad with sunflower dressing, and blueberry pie - for me, that was the equivalent of a cooking marathon), cleaning (I tend to make a big mess when I cook), and trying to figure out why our two-year-old erupts with massive amounts of energy 20 hours a day (I even read a parenting book - and I'm usually not a big fan of such things).

This summer has been very hot and blazingly sunny, and I am looking forward to autumn and winter, when we can spend time at the park without melting. The combination of heat and UV radiation makes us reluctant to head outside, even though that's the best way for our kid to blow off some steam.

Basically, all I want to do is lounge around, eat yummy food, drink something citrusy and refreshing, and... hmm, that's about it.

One piece of news: we did join our local sailing club. We're going to alternate going to the meetings; our son isn't old enough to come along yet, so one of us needs to stay home and hang out with him. Trent went last Tuesday night, and I'll get to go this Tuesday night. In addition to getting a chance to sail, I hope we'll be able to meet some people who know stuff about navigation and fixing things, and who enjoy sharing that knowledge.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A second opinion saved me $1832

Last week, I wrote about how I received some bad news about my teeth on the same day we paid off our credit card debt. My dentist's fancy new x-ray equipment apparently detected four cavities absent from the more archaic x-rays taken in January. In addition to the fillings, he also decided I needed two crowns at more than $1K a pop, and that I should replace two of my old silver fillings with resin-based composite. The total cost of this treatment plan came out to a whopping $3535.00. No amount of Novocaine could dull the pain of that bill.

Not entirely sold on everything he'd proposed - especially the part that involved replacing the silver fillings - I decided to seek a second opinion. I made an appointment with another dentist in the same practice. Today, in a consultation for which she did not charge me, she spent 20 minutes peering into my mouth and reviewing my x-rays. Her determination: while I do need one crown, the other one is, at this point, unnecessary. Moreover, the old fillings are in good shape, and there's no need to fix something that isn't broken. She then helped me prioritize which remaining issues to address first and which ones we can tackle in a few months. Clearly, she will be the person I trust with my teeth from here on out.

New total treatment plan cost: $1703. It's still expensive and still financially painful, but it's $1832 less than the first proposed plan. 

I spoke with the office manager about the best way to pay for these procedures, since my insurance won't cover it. She suggested Care Credit, but although it sounds like a pretty above-board option, I have no intention of going back into credit card debt. When I explained this to her, she assured me the dentist will allow me to pay off the balance in a couple of installments. I think we'll be able to make that work.

I'm glad I didn't assume that the first guy was the All Knowing, Never-to-be-Questioned God of Dentistry. I'm glad I sought the advice of another expert. This is the first time I've asked for a second opinion, but it won't be the last. From here on out, I will take a more proactive approach to my health care. Doing so could be beneficial to my well-being and to my wallet.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

We got to go sailing!

A couple of days ago, Trent and I contacted a local sailing club and asked if we could tag along at an upcoming event, just so we could see whether we might want to join. They said yes - very exciting! - so last night we left my son with his grandmother and headed up to the lake for a "Learn at the Helm" session. This program matches novices with experienced sailors and their boats, thereby giving people a chance to crew on a variety of vessels.

Trent and I ended up on two different boats, which was actually good in terms of experience/learning. His boat was nice because it was similar to the ones we used in our sailing class last year. He said he felt pretty comfortable on it. I ended up on a 37-foot, brand-new Beneteau that looked like it belonged on the ocean, not on a small freshwater lake. It was a little weird because everything was automated and/or super easy to use. Press a few buttons, pull a few lines, and voila, the boat is carving through the water with the sails up. There were five other people with me, plus the owner, and I think everyone else, like me, was terrified of doing something stupid and destroying the thing. It was so pretty, though. I'd love to have a boat that size. It had a master cabin, a smaller cabin, a great little kitchen area with refrigerator and stove, a navigation desk, and a bathroom with shower... Sheesh. I could live on something like that! 

Trent really wants to join the club, and I think we will. That way, we can practice on some of the motorless club boats. There's no other way we're going to get experience on a regular basis. I'd really like to purchase a small, trailerable boat (17-23 feet) of our own. If we had our own little boat, we could go out there whenever we wanted to and practice without the anxiety that comes with someone more experienced coaching you along. Every time we go with someone else, they'll say, "Don't worry, do whatever you want, I'll just sit here and enjoy the view," and then they'll proceed to share advice and tips for the duration of the sail. That might work for some learners, but it doesn't work for me. I learn by trying things out myself and making mistakes.

I think we could buy in at a good price right now, but we won't, because 1) we don't want to pay a slip fee, 2) there aren't any slips available anyway, 3) we can't park a boat in our condo complex, and 4) our car can't tow anything. Basically, in order to get a boat, we'd have to get a new house and new car first!

We'll see. The fee to join isn't too expensive - about $160 for both of us - and I know we could get a lot out of it.

P.S. Congratulations to Lisette and Bill for winning the giveaway! 

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Revolutionary Road (and my first giveaway!)

This summer, I'm reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Trent and I watched the movie (starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio) a few weeks ago.  Then Trent heard on a Slate podcast that the book is even better, so we checked it out at the library. 

There's something disturbingly familiar (that's how I feel, anyway) about the themes in this book. It's about a young married couple, April and Frank Wheeler, who - despite their once passionate determination to travel and act and live life outside of the norm - somehow find themselves raising two children in suburbia. Frank works in the city, and April stays at home with the kids. They feel out of place in a pretty, perfect-lawn-and-garden world in which everyone else seems comfortable and content. 

The novel is set in the 1950s. To be honest, I thought the author had written it only in the last few years. I was surprised to discover it was first published in the 1960s. The themes seem modern. Some issues span decades, I guess.

Frank and April's story brings up some questions that I think a lot of us ask ourselves, though perhaps we don't share them with the people around us:

Do we choose the nature of our lives for ourselves, or do circumstances and expectation channel us into them?

How many adults, despite appearances, feel uncomfortable with the status quo of their lives? How many adults make an effort to change that?

Is it selfish to try to buck societal norms? 

Is bucking societal norms really that difficult - or is that an illusion? Do we create imaginary barriers in our own minds, ones that prevent us from exploring as far and wide as we're actually capable of doing?

Personally, I think a lot of the things that seem impossible really aren't. We're just entrenched in our current situations and bound by a mountain of debt, stuff, complacency, and/or other people's expectations.  That doesn't mean we can't pull ourself out of the trench or overcome the mountain; it'll just require some work. For instance, the idea of buying a boat, living on it, and seeing part of the world that way seems kind of far-fetched from where I'm sitting right now, but really, what will it take? Money (definitely a big obstacle, but not an insurmountable one if we plan ahead), research, patience, a willingness to learn, and time - and that's about all. That's why I'm so convinced we can make it happen.

Anyway, that's what I'm doing/thinking about on my summer vacation.

*  *  *  *  *
On a somewhat unrelated note, I've decided to have a giveaway - first because I think it'll be fun, and second because I'd like to have a better idea of who's reading this blog. Nothing fancy, but I'm giving away two new WRAP-N-MATS wraps. My sister-in-law purchased one for my son last year, and it's perfect for wrapping up sandwiches. It encourages both frugality and "green living." 

To enter, just reply to this post, include your name and e-mail address in the comment boxes, and answer the following question:

What book would you recommend others read this summer?

The giveaway ends on Tuesday, July 7 at 7 p.m. Eastern Time. I'll choose the winners at random and announce them on Wednesday morning. You must have an address in the U.S. in order to enter.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Oh, the irony (but first, a celebration)

Early yesterday morning, Trent and I paid off the last of our credit card debt. 

It is gone. GONE! And it's never coming back (well, except for the maybe 100 dollars in interest that we'll have to deal with next month). 

Trent's most recent paycheck was higher than we'd expected; apparently, we'd misunderstood the pay schedule issued by one of his employers. What a pleasant surprise. Deleting the last chunk of debt felt amazing. Refreshing. Freeing. Ahhh.

I drove to my 9 a.m. dental appointment with a smile on my face.

Then Mr. Murphy (of Murphy's Law) reappeared. It's uncanny how fast he heard our good news. He was quick to step in and do his thing: My dentist - who recently acquired a fancy new piece of x-ray equipment that can pinpoint even the teeniest of enamel defects - looked at my x-ray films and announced I'd need thousands of dollars in dental procedures, none of which is covered by my insurance. "What a bummer," he said before shaking my hand and leaving the room.

(Yeah. What a bummer. Is that how rich, well-insured people view situations like this? Must be nice.)

I left the dentist feeling depressed. Talk about raining on my no-credit-card-debt parade.

Anyway, I could lament about how much this stresses me out, how much it's going to cost, how irritated I am that this stupid new technology is only serving to emphasize the fact that am a genetic loser on the tooth front, and how much I hate the U.S. private insurance system. But I'll spare you - at least, I'll spare you today. No promises for the future.

Instead, I'll simply say that I'm going to get a second opinion (and that if you know of a good, nice, caring dentist in the Nashville area, please let me know) and that I will be paying for this work in cash, even if I have to space it out over a period of two years.

And today? Today I floss, brush, rinse, and then celebrate, because getting out from under the thumb of the credit card companies is certainly cause for celebration.