The Year in Review – Sort Of

I have been a horrible blogger this year.  So horrible that when I sat down to write about my goals and whatever, I went back to read my post on reflections from 2013 and found that I hadn’t written one.

In a larger context, I rather think 2014 sucked in a “validating the title of my blog” way.  Yesterday, when news about the death of Mario Cuomo broke, someone linked to a clip of his address to the 1984 DNC.  And I thought, “Thirty years later and not a damn thing has changed in this country.”   Too many people still can’t make ends meet and even more feel hopeless, helpless, or otherwise disenfranchised.

For me personally, it has been a pretty good year.  I continue to be unreasonably lucky in my health, family, finances and opportunities.  I‘m afraid that I am becoming too comfortable.  It has been five years since I finished my Master’s Degree and I haven’t seriously considered any other major pursuits.  I continue to volunteer with the same places – doing good work – but hardly branching out.  I continue to work with the best employer ever, which has me placing my work above other priorities.  I’d planned to stop doing that.  I’ve said before that when one chooses to be child-free, the question of The Meaning of Life is not a no-brainer.  But we do know it is not to spend more time in meetings.

So maybe this year isn’t about how many books I am going to read or how many blankets I am going to make or how many volunteer hours I put in or how many visits to the gym.  Maybe it is about getting the hell outside my comfort zone and doing something different.

Christmas Princess Shopping

This year, my family finally got its act together and made some Amazon wish lists.  The adult ones are incredibly boring, but for the kids, it is quite useful.  Then this happened.  From the list of Ashlyn, age 3 1/2:

That is a Barbie Mariposa Fairy doll.  I presume that it is from some Barbie movie or TV show about which I want to know exactly nothing.  So this is what I think of as “The Princess Dilemma”.  On one hand, I do not want my nieces to be engulfed in the princess culture.  I do not want to contribute to the princess culture.  But particularly in the context of Disney, this stuff is ubiquitous.  They’ve already been exposed to it, they already want these toys.  And I want to bring them things they like.  So my response is not to fight it, but to use the toys as an opportunity to talk about stuff.  For example:

A few years ago, my nephew Alex (then age 6ish) asked who my favorite princess was.  When I told him it was Belle, he asked why.  I told him to guess.  He thought for a minute, lit up and said, “Because she likes to read books!”

Absolutely.  She also rescues her father and the Beast and saves the day.

Around the same time, my friend Elijah (just turned 8) announced that he didn’t like Ariel, The Little Mermaid.  He said, “She makes bad decisions.”

Yes!  I am eternally grateful to Elijah, because he showed me how to explain my disgust with Snow White to the children without having to use the words “complete moron” or “makes me want the bad guy to win”.  Snow White makes a very bad decision.  And you know what?  Ainslie, age 5, is already starting to outgrow Disney princesses.  This year for Halloween she decided to be a lady bug, while Ashlyn was Cinderella.  But back to Barbie.

I am somewhat less worried about the body image thing than many people.  This is a post for another day, but I am rather  convinced that the true enemy is Photoshop, not Mattel.  But it has always irritated me that the Barbie dolls in my day were all Malibu, Cheerleader, Figure Skater blahblahblah.  At least now Barbie has a career.  Or several.  So I bought that fairy Barbie doll.  And a doctor Barbie doll.  And an astronaut Barbie doll.

 This is how I do Christmas.

Sometimes, the System Works

I ran an errand this morning, then went to yoga.  When I was finished, I went back to my car and looked at my phone.  There was a voicemail from an 800 number that turned out to be Amex.  Fraud alert, please call.  So I did.

The last time I had a fraud alert, it turned out that my account had been flagged for making too many charitable contributions in the past week.  Seriously.  So I wasn’t worried.  In the automated system, they asked if they could text me the details.  I said they could and the system stayed on the line while I checked.

$1,300 to Continental Airlines.   Continental Airlines doesn’t exist anymore, but nevermind that.  I didn’t make that charge, so I clicked the button and the next message said that they were transferring me to a live person.

The live person asked me to confirm that the charge was fraudulent, confirm that one more charge was fraudulent, then ran through a bunch more charges that were legitimate including the one from this morning.  Then she reversed the two bad charges, cancelled my card and said a new one would be at my house on Monday.

This whole process took less than 15 minutes from my cell phone, sitting in my car.

When I got home, I logged in to look at my recent charges again.  Everything looks fine again.  I don’t know what kind of data mining action these people have going on, but this is the second time (the first was on my Chase card) that fraud was spotted and flagged before I knew there was anything wrong.  And then killed as soon as they got hold of me.

This, kids, is why I feel totally comfortable using plastic all the time.

The Price of Low Fat Chocolate Milk

On the average day, I drink a Milk Chug for breakfast.  To be specific, a 16 ounce bottle of Dean’s Low Fat Chocolate Milk.  All chocolatey goodness with the required protein and ridiculously convenient.   I buy them from the sundry store in my building.  Not cost-efficient, but hardly as bad as a Starbucks habit (which will come on in the winter).

Because it is an occupational hazard, I know the price of milk is rising, so I have been waiting for the retail cost of my daily milk chug to go up.  Then the other day, when I grabbed a bottle from the store refrigerator, I noticed something off:

The bottle read 14 ounces of chocolate milk.

Now I knew about that kind of cheating on ice cream – same price, smaller container.  But I had never seen it with milk before.  Gallon, half-gallon, pint, half-pint.  But 14 ounces?

Huh.  Dennis, the proprietor of the store, said the price had been going up wholesale.  He just hadn’t passed it on yet.  And when I made the comment about ice cream, he said that lots of other products have been doing that – potato chips and cereal were the two he mentioned.  Things that tend to go stale in my house, anyway.

So.  Two fewer ounces of chocolate milk are hardly going to kill me.  But attention must be paid!


On Conferences

I was at SHRM, a big city-wide national conference last week.  The sessions were great, the key note speakers were fabulous and I feel like it was totally worth my time and (my employer’s) money.

However, I am growing old and judgmental so I feel the need to pontificate on some rules of etiquette that made me freakin’ crazy.

If you are a participant:

  • Show up to the session on time.  Being late is disruptive, particularly at a huge conference where the aisle seats are the first to fill up.

Even I have changed my mind after the introduction, and decided that this isn’t really the session I want.  In fact, last week I walked out of a 7am session because the speaker (in a theatre-style lecture hall) told us to “organize ourselves into learning groups”.  I scurried to the session across the hall and was much happier.  But seriously if you have to do it, minimize the disruption.  Which leads to:

  • Don’t eat in session.

I had a guy with a vending machine Egg McMuffin behind me.  It was loud (as he unwrapped a section at a time) and smelly and when he was finally finished he struggled to jam the wrapper into his empty water bottle for ease of not recycling.  That was several minutes of trying to control my blood pressure instead of listening to the session.

And don’t get me started on people that can’t drink coffee without slurping.

  • Shut up.
I was in a general session, listening to the keynote, (Malcolm Freakin’ Gladwell!) when three staffers (staffers!) sat in front of me and started texting and chatting.  (Texting is fine, as live-tweeting was encouraged, so we were all free to use our phones.  Chatting is clearly not.)  I nearly confronted them, but they left after 15 or 20 minutes.  That was the last time I sat in the general session hall.  After that, I found the rooms with the TVs and the bloggers.  They also had candy.
  • Stay until the end

I realize this one is tough.  Sometimes, we just have to pee.  And again, sometimes we realize that we chose the wrong session and there are many others available.  But out of courtesy to the speaker, please try.

Here’s one for the speakers:

  • Don’t tell me to take notes.

I understand you didn’t feel like creating a PowerPoint.  Not judging you for that.  You told us to print out your five-page handout before coming to the session.  Bad luck for those of us that don’t pick our sessions until we arrive onsite.  But we are adults and we don’t need you to tell us (over and over throughout the session) what to write down.  Are we going to be graded?  Is this on the final exam?

Overall, SHRM puts together a great program.  This was my second year attending and I cram in a whole lot of learning.  But the biggest thing I learned?  HR people have no better manners than anyone else.

How the Target Pharmacy Lost my Business

or Today’s Rant of My First World Problems.

The stupidest use of legislation ever was the State of Illinois deciding that it would combat the evil meth labs by making it painfully inconvenient for the Good People to obtain pseudoephedrine.  Without which I cannot breathe.

Until recently my drug of choice, Allegra D, was only available by prescription.   So I ordered it in 90 day supplies from the mail order pharmacy preferred by my health insurance.  When I went to reorder this month, the mail order pharmacy said they are no longer distributing Allegra D because it is an over-the-counter drug.

Knowing about the Stupidest Use of Legislation Ever, I asked what my options were.  Going to the pharmacy every 10 days to buy a new box is unacceptable.  Mail order pharmacy suggested that I call my doctor for a new script and take it to my local pharmacy.  They would probably give me 90 days if those were my doctors orders.

I called the local pharmacy and my doctor’s office and confirmed that I could do this.  I picked up the script the next day and figured I would pick it up the next time I ran by the pharmacy.

Then I went goofy.

I happened to be in Target for last minute Christmas stuff.  They have a pharmacy.  I haven’t been entirely happy with my regular pharmacy, so I took my script to the Target pharmacist.  He told me the state law said that he couldn’t give me more than a ten day supply.  It didn’t matter that I had a prescription.  He had to take my driver’s license, put it into a national database and confirm that I was allowed to have it before he could give me a ten day supply.  When I told him that my local pharmacy said they could do it, he said, “Their systems must not be as good as ours.”

I took the ten day supply.

Fast forward to today.  My mother saw our doctor, and having heard the first part of my story, got him to write a script for Claritin D, which has the same regulatory issues.  She took hers to a third pharmacy and it was filled with no problem.  I went back to my regular pharmacy tonight and got my 90 day supply.

Perhaps because I work in HR, there are few things that irritate me more than people telling me what “the law says” when they have no idea what they are talking about.  I understand the rules with this drug are crazy, but if I can’t count on the pharmacist to know them better than I do, I will be taking my business elsewhere.

Sorry, Target.  That was your shot.