Friday, April 29, 2011

Venting About Grown-Up Problems: Flexible Spending Accounts

And now...for more rantings about the problems one encounters as an adult.  Contrary to what the subject title may tell you, I am actually in love with FSAs (Flexible Spending Accounts).  I am just wildly upset because of circumstances that were well within my control if I hadn't procrastinated.

I just made a sinking realization that I may have screwed myself out of my pre-tax Health Savings Account plan through work because I still have a balance on my Flexible Savings Account that, for the life of me, I cannot seem to get rid of.  I got a massage on Wednesday, but their card reader was messed up and the transaction wouldn't go through, so she took down my information on a manual slip.  I called today to confirm if that charge has been made and it hadn't yet, but she promised to do it this afternoon.  There seems to be several days' delay on these things, so it's not like I can see my charges in real time. 

Well, even after that, I had/have another $20 and some change to get rid of, so I went to Target thinking I would get some stuff like Band-aids and contact solution to eat up the rest, but I had to do so while making sure I still had the right amount left to cover the massage.  I figured I'd work it so that the amount I spent over the $20 and change would get charged to my debit card, and the specific amount that I needed would get charged to the benefits card.  Except that the guy at check-out didn't really understand what I was trying to do and the whole amount ended up getting charged to the benefits card, which was bad because then I wouldn't have enough to cover the fee for the massage, etc.  So he voided it and I just paid for the stuff out of pocket and figured I'd have to suck it up and submit a claim.

Well, I know for a fact that that will take even longer, and what's worse is that it looks like everything has to be processed against your account by year's end, so the plan administrator's web site says, "Give yourself at least 4 days before your employer's plan year end to zero out your account balance yada yada yada".  Our plan year ends tomorrow.  On a Saturday.

Are you on the edge of your seat yet?  Because it gets better.

So tonight after I got home I got the brilliant idea to just go back out to a drug store and try eating up the balance on the card again with yet more contact solution and Band-Aids. But guess what? It takes about 24 hours for a voided charge to clear the bank, so my card was declined.  Mind you,  I'm not doing this within standard business days/hours at this point, so...basically, I'm screwed.  Oh, and before we even got to this horrible realization at the cash register, I spent 15-20 minutes pacing the aisles trying to buy things to equal as close to $18.44 as possible because that's how much I would need to spend before the tax is added to get to $20.15.  The woman at the register thought I was crazy and/or stupid, I was apologizing left and right, and of course she was the only one at the check out so there were people waiting behind me.  Mercifully, they were all patient because I think they picked up on the strong scent of Desperation I was throwing off.  I ended up slinking out of Walgreens in shame, empty-handed.

I've been Googling this for the last 10 minutes and I really do think that because my account balance will probably not show $0.00 by May 1st, that will lock me out of the Health Savings Plan for a full year.  Cripes!  There goes my lovely pre-tax benefit unless I am super diligent and a.) set up my own savings account and contribute to it after taxes, plus b.) save each and every receipt so that next year come tax time, I can itemize all of my health expenses and lower my tax liability.  Oh, and because this the first year we're doing this, my employer was going to give everyone who participated in this particular plan $250 of "seed" money for our account this one time only.  According to everything I've read so far, I will lose that too.

This is where I pull what is known as a *headdesk*.

I suppose the good news is that I did opt to sign up for a limited FSA, which I can use to cover stuff like my contact lenses and eye glasses, so that should still be intact.  Also, my health insurance plan is quite good and fully covers preventative procedures, which is pretty much all I do in a given year anyway.  I was just so looking forward to continuing to take advantage of that sweet pre-tax benefit and the super convenient benefits debit card and all that jazz.  I wanted that safety cushion in case I did happen to incur some decent medical expenses this year because I switched to the lower premium high-deductible Consumer Directed Health Plan.  I guess I should really count myself fortunate that I even have insurance and that it's quite comprehensive at that.  This is what we call a "high rent problem", like having long legs and a full head of naturally curly hair (which I do).  Still...this is mostly just a highly potent annoying reminder of why you don't procrastinate on the things that matter.

Okay, you know what?  It's past 9:30 now and I've been running on 2 hours of sleep and double-shot espresso.  It's time to call it a day.

A Royal Wedding

My friend Tim called me up Thursday mid-morning with a brilliant idea: he was going to throw together a Royal Wedding Viewing Party.

Truth be told, I had no plans on trying to catch the event live and I figured there would be more than enough re-caps online after the fact if I wanted to find out how it went down. However, when he talked it up and mentioned that the idea started because his Mum (who is English) suggested that she and his dad might drive down from LA to watch it with them...well, why not? This sort of thing doesn't come around very often. It's a once-in-a-generation kind of occasion. I mean, I wasn't even alive for the Charles and Diana wedding!  Prince William and I were born the same year.

He invited another one of his friends to come along, and she brought her young daughters with her, one of whom is just old enough to appreciate the celebration of a new princess very much. It was adorable to watch her groggily try and wake up as her mom brought her back downstairs a few minutes before the ceremony, and she was pretty fixated on it from there on out. Tim and his wife have 2 boys. The 3 year old went down for the count a little after 10pm and stayed in bed--nothing in it for him! Haha. The other is still an infant and he actually ended up waking up and joining us while we were still watching Dr. Who and Top Gear in the hours leading up to the start of events.


This was at some point between the recessional and the balcony appearance. 
I showed up at about 10 after a power nap and we dined on traditional English foods, such as Cornish pasties, sausage rolls, and various meat pies, and everyone except for Tim and myself took a nap for a few hours in the time leading up to the procession that started around 2am Pacific Time.

It really did end up being a wonderful occasion. As an American, I cannot even begin to fathom this kind of event with all its pomp and circumstance. We have nothing of the sort here--no, not even our Inagural balls for our presidents can touch it.

It's so fascinating to me to take in this sort of thing, with its historical roots reaching back to before my home country even existed. I'm proud to be an American (and every time they played "God Save the Queen", in my head I sang "My Country Tis of Thee"), however, a part of me wished I was British today so that I could fully appreciate that which laid before me. It's so very easy to become jaded and cynical about this sort of thing in this day and age and in the wake of natural disasters, financial crises, etc., but when has that ever been a really good reason not to take the opportunity to feel good and celebrate something?  Some folks get almost defensively sarcastic about the whole event.  I totally get it if you don't feel the need to watch it live--or at all, but c'mon...just let yourself have a smile for a happy occasion and go about your business!  After all, the last widely televised event involving this family was mired in tragedy.  It felt so good to see them all beaming with joy.  And, of course, it was just plain fun to share such an experience with a group of people.  Think of it as a Super Bowl party that only comes once every 30 years or so.  Even if you don't care one way or another for the team, you go to enjoy good company and good food and in another generation you can tell the people who weren't born or too young to remember the last one what it was like.

At any rate, I stayed just long enough to see the iconic balcony appearance (with *both* kisses, if you please), and I headed home to contemplate my options. Give the cat her insulin, change, and go straight to work at an ungodly early hour (so that I could leave at a similarly early time), grab what little sleep I could then go in, or use some sick time and stay home? I opted for the second option and I got a solid 2 hours before heading to work and grabbing a double shot espresso from Starbucks on the way in. I think it was just enough to get me through.  I may be tired, but for me, the entire thing was totally worth it!

Cheers,

Maria

P.S. I am so deadly serious when I say that when I first caught glimpse of Princess Beatrice coming into the cathedral, I thought it was Lady GaGa.  If you wanted to get some attention, honey, you got it!

P.P.S. And same to you, Samantha Cameron, for doing the opposite!  For some reason I thought she was Spanish, and have been joking all night/day that that's why she said, "Feh!" to the hat, but she is English.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The MBA Project: Ready to Review!

Picture me with my fist pumped in the air.  I just checked the portal and my application is finally complete.  They downloaded my letters of recommendation today, and my application status is officially, "Complete - Ready for review".

So now, we continue to wait.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Heavy Lifting

I'm a big fan of Jennifer Hudson, but I couldn't name one of her hit singles. This is one of those admirations of a person's life moreso than their life's work. It's not to say that I don't like her music, but I've never been compelled to buy any of her singles/albums. (I did really dig her role in the Sex and the City movie, however.)

I am a fan of hers because she has always been a classy, lovely woman since being thrust into the public eye some number of years ago. A classy, lovely woman with a curvy figure, and one that she has made even lovelier by getting down to a healthy size. I mean, look at her! She's gorgeous!



Well, I don't often talk about this openly, but I have been overweight for my entire adult life and most of my adolescence as well. As my father says, I come by it honestly--both of my parents have struggled with weight issues for as long as I can remember. However, I'm more inclined to think that when it comes to maintaining a healthy body--barring any congenital conditions--it's more nurture than nature. Whatever my issues are/were, ultimately, I have the ability to control this situation.
October 2008 visiting Tina in Kansas City

Over the last 2.3 years, I've shed about 52 lbs, or 21.5 inches. I'm pretty proud of myself, especially because it came as a result of a lifestyle change and by no means as a result of dieting. No food is off-limits unless I simply don't want it or don't like the way it was prepared (or processed...I'm pretty preachy-preachy when it comes to high fructose corn syrup, dyes, artificial preservatives, jacked up sodium, etc.).

However, I've been frustrated for a long time because 52 months is a long time to take off 52 lbs! I know why it is, though. I've been avoiding crossing a line with myself. I heartily support behavioral support type programs like Weight Watchers, but I've loudly declared time and time again, "That is NOT for me. I can't become one of those people who counts every calorie. I just can't." Okay, hot shot, so why is it fine for everyone but me?



The truth is, I have a mildly irrational, but very real fear of eating disorders.  I have not been diagnosed with one, nor do I think I ever could have been, but I have seen the effects up close and personally, and ever since then I've been afraid of "going there" with the calories.  I've been afraid that counting them is the first step towards becoming an obsessive-compulsive person who gets racked with guilt over every little thing that tastes good.

January 2011 with two of my co-workers at the annual company holiday party
When it comes to making a lifestyle change, though, my approach of moderation mixed with regular exercise hasn't been enough to get the results I want and, frankly, need. I'm not to where I want to be. I'm a good 30 lbs away from it. This weekend I finally admitted to myself that I have to "go there" with the calories. People like Jennifer Hudson and Kelly Osborune got to where they are by doing the hard work and becoming very conscious of what they eat. Calories in, calories out. Period. They also have personal trainers, but I'm not using that tired excuse. Maybe I can't afford a PT right now, but I can afford to sign up for a free web service and start logging everything. I love Daily Mile and I hope that someday they'll add a nutrition component too, but until then, I've started using MyFitnessPal.com.

This isn't the first time I've kept a food journal, actually.  I did make a half-assed attempt back in December 2006/early 2007, which was when I joined a gym for the first time and lost a pretty significant amount of weight in a relatively short period of time.  (Most of which came back by mid-2008, right around the time I canceled my gym membership...go figure.)  The difference is that this is the first time I've started using an online service with calorie counts. Actually, this site is cool because they do total net calories, meaning that if you log your exercise activities along with it, they will take that into account as well.

I started tracking this weekend, and let me tell you, it's bringing about quite a range of mixed emotions. On the one hand, it immediately curbed my behavior in nibbling on little bits here and there because I plain ol' don't want to have to not only go write it down, but then go look it up on the damn website! So that's a good thing. However, on the other hand, it has made me a little bit scared to eat. If you know me well, you'll probably find that funny and sad because I enjoy eating and I am the first person to fuss at you like a mad hen if I find out that you "forget" to eat or purposely starve yourself, even for a day. It's true, though--I've found myself paralyzed in the kitchen, physically and mentally weighing my options. I've dished out beans and rice to myself using a dry quarter measuring cup, eyeballed all of my food before I so much as bite into it. When you don't know what a cup or an ounce of something really looks like, though, how can you not? That's my whole point...I have had no clue about how many calories I consume in a day. I suppose it's been the right amount to maintain my weight. Any major losses I've made have probably been a result of my activity level, not my food intake, because I've refused to make it a focus. I was afraid that doing this would make me lose control, become obsessive, and eventually lead to some sort of counseling. Irrational fears are powerful stuff. What I'm starting to realize is that it's quite the opposite. I actually feel more in control than I ever have before.

So this will be interesting, this new venture of mine. I'm thinking about starting to train for a 10k this year too. I have to re-assess my schedule, because lately I've only been going out for a run on Fridays and that's clearly not going to cut it.  I have dance class on Monday and Wednesday, go to Zumba on Tuesdays (which could be a good running day, but I love Zumba and I feel like it's a good way to keep my body on its toes, literally), and Thursdays I have a weekly ritual with some good friends where we eat dinner together.  As for the weekends, I've severely disliked running in my [busy, crowded, dusty, stop-light ridden] neighborhood the few times I've done it.   I've got to figure out a way to overcome all of that without resorting to driving somewhere else to get it done, though.  My friends and I have tossed around the idea of switching Thursday dinners to weekend brunch, too, especially if I end up having to take a class on that night.  Oh, and don't even get me started on how worried I am about keeping up with my workout regimen if/when I get into grad school!

Ah, well, one day at a time!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The MBA Project:

...the wait continues...



...however, when I checked the portal just now, I see that the only items that are outstanding as of today are my letters of reference. :-)  And I know that those were submitted, so it's just a matter of time before the admissions team retrieves them from the system, marks it complete, and hands it off to someone to start reviewing, yes?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The MBA Project: The Wait

I've been pretty calm since finally submitting my application.  I've been anxious to hear anything back from the school, of course, but I didn't expect anything until maybe last week or this upcoming week at the latest.  I had it in my head that I'd get an e-mail from admissions notifying me that they received my application and what its status was.   I don't think I wrote about the all-day MBA Insights session I attended last weekend, but I met a few other people who had already submitted their applications ahead of me and one guy said that he received a notice from the school with log-in information to their online tracking portal.

Anyway, cut to today when I was walking across the street to dump my recyclables and on the way back I remembered that I hadn't picked up Saturday's mail yet.  I opened my mailbox and just about had a heart attack when I saw an envelope bearing my name with "University of San Diego Office of Admissions" stamped on it.  For a fleeting moment my stomach dropped and I thought to myself, "It's not the fat envelope.  Fat envelopes are good, skinny envelopes are not."

As I walked back inside my apartment, I slowly returned to my senses and rationalized that it was probably just too darn early to declare me dead in the water and that this was probably the notification from the admissions office that I was looking for--the one giving me log-in information to the portal.  It was.  I just checked and I felt even a little better when I read the paragraph that said that because this is such a busy time of year for their team (obvi), sometimes it takes awhile for them to find all of those floaty bits, like transcripts and GMAT scores, and match them to your online application.  Even though your status may say that it is not yet in, it might actually be physically in the office and just not tagged to your information yet.  Sigh of relief.  That's obviously the case with me, as according to my status, my file wasn't created until a week after I submitted my application, and it doesn't list receipt dates for any of my supplemental material.

So, in short, I just need to be patient on this one.  Until they have a complete file for me, it won't be passed to anyone to actually start reviewing it and considering me for interview, etc., and there isn't anything I can do until then.  Go about life as usual. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Happy Times for Good Friends

The girl I shared a room with when I was a Disney College Program Intern back in 2002 just got engaged.  By this point in my life, engagements seem like old hat.  Heck, I have more than a handful of friends who are on their second marriage, child, etc., and yet this one feels more special than the rest.  I suppose it's because my friend was a part of a very special circle of friends, and she's the first to get married.  We shared the apartment on our internship with six girls total, and four of us met online before the college program, and then met up with one another the night before our official check-in date.  That night cemented us all together, and over the next five months we grew into a very tight-knit circle a la Sex and the City.  We bonded early and often, and one thing that we all had in common for a very long time was that we were single.  I have no other specific group of friends like that; in fact, I'm usually in the minority now among my peers because I'm not married.  But now one of our own is finally growing up and settling down and I couldn't be happier for her!  Although we are not as close as we once were, I do know that her now-fiance has made her incredibly happy over the last few years and treats her like a princess.  (The princess bit was her words.)   I feel a little verklempt when I see the pictures from her engagement site (he wrote "Marry Me, Michelle" in sidewalk chalk at the site of their first date...where they went on a run--yes, this is one very fit couple!).  I am so, so profoundly happy for her.  Congratulations, Michelle and Mike!