Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why Am I So Famished?

A version of this post appeared on The Famished Freelancer, my defunct food writing blog. I decided to kill it because a) maintaining 2 blogs is more than I can possibly be expected to deal with and b) it was supposed to be a work sample, but I ended up writing different stuff that I do for clients so it just didn't make sense anymore. I'll be re-posting over here about once a week in the interest of consolidation (and in actually having more stuff to post here).

I'm a freelance writer, and I work from home. In theory this means that I'm eating really well since I don't have to rush through breakfast and I have time to make my lunch from scratch. In practice, I eat breakfast in front of my computer and don't think about lunch until I'm hungry and need to eat NOW. 

But that doesn't mean that I don't love food. Or that I don't think about it a lot. Though I don't think about it as much as I did during my dieting days. Between the meal planning, the algebra of counting points and the hunger, food was on my mind a lot. Not that I was enjoying what I ate. I remember wishing once that I didn't have to eat at all.

Can you imagine that? Food is love. Even healthy, low cal food. Food is tasty. Food is life. Who would want to give it up? 

Someone with a fraught, miserable relationship with food. That's who. Someone who went on their first diet at the age of five because the pediatrician had concerns about where she fit into the height and weight charts. Someone deep into the disordered thinking and eating patterns that come with dieting. But don't call it an eating disorder, because you're still fat.

It took a lot of years, but I swore off dieting forever. For my health. The stress was bad for me. 

Now I believe that skim milk tastes like self loathing. Have you ever poured skim milk into iced coffee? In a clear cup, so you can see it all blend together? It's depressing. Milk is supposed to make coffee lighter, but skim milk just can't pull it off.

This isn't a fat-acceptance blog, but it will be a diet talk-free zone. (Seriously, can I go an entire day without hearing about how someone feels they have to punish themselves with exercise because they ate something delicious? Apparently not, even though I rarely leave the house.)

I'm done hating food.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Marital Discussion: Darth Vader

Picture a lightsaber here instead of a kitchen torch.
The scene: His Awesomeness is making a special weekend breakfast (scrambled eggs & toast) while his iPod plays the Star Wars soundtrack (because…it's on shuffle, my husband is weird, I dunno). I'm just trying to get my eyes open enough to get my contacts lenses in.

Me: Isn't it a little early for stormtroopers? It sounds like Darth Vader is coming to dinner. [in a silly voice] "No Darth Vader, you're not invited to dinner."

Him: Maybe Darth Vader is bringing a bottle of wine or a nice desert. Maybe Darth Vader is brining creme brûlée.

Me: That doesn't sound like Darth Vader at all. He's the kind of guy who'd just show up empty-handed.

Him: I'd tell him, "What are you doing, Darth Vader? We had a bargain. I make dinner and you bring the dessert." And he's all, "I'm altering the bargain." And now I'm sorry I invited Darth Vader to dinner.

And here I thought it was common knowledge that you should never invite Darth Vader to dinner. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Local's Guide to Visiting NYC

A few months ago, I offered to take requests for blog posts, and someone asked for suggestions for visiting NYC. Since I'm THE WORST, I'm only just getting to it. 

So here are my tips for visiting NYC.

Double Decker Buses

I've never ridden one myself since locals just take the subway, but my mother-in-law enjoys them when she visits. You get to see all the interesting details on the buildings when you ride above ground. Also, you can buy a ticket and hop on and off, so you can take them everywhere. 

Unlike the subway and regular buses, they're staffed by people used to dealing with tourists who have no idea where they're going. So giving directions is kind of their thing. Ask a local for directions and we may not be sure because you're trying to go someplace where we've been once in ten years. We'll do our best, then realize we made a mistake 5 minutes later.

If you have a large group, or are intimated by the subway, the double decker buses are the way to go.

The Subway

It's a lot safer now than it was back in the 70s and 80s. So if you avoid the subway because you fear for your safety, don't. But the map can be hard to figure out and things move more quickly than you're used to. But that applies to all of NYC, which leads me to…

Get Out of the Way

New Yorkers aren't rude. They're just pissed off because you're in the way. Approach walking in NYC like driving. You wouldn't stop your car at the mouth of a highway exit, would you? So don't stop at the top or bottom of stairways or block doors to restaurants while you discuss whether to go in or not. We've got places to be and a little situational awareness will improve your experience.

Top of the Rock

Why ride to the top of the Empire State Building when Top of the Rock gives you a view that includes the ESB? With shorter lines. If you only have time to do one, the choice is clear. Besides, a lot of TV is made in that building, which is where you know NYC from. Which leads me to…

The World Trade Center Memorial

To you, 9/11 is something that happened on TV. I'm sure you were very upset by it. To many New Yorkers, it happened in real life, complete with the smell of burning flesh permeating the city, weeks with a smoking pit of wreckage downtown, and franticly tracking down friends and family - not always successfully.

By all means, go to the museum, but be aware that there may be someone grieving standing 5 feet away from you. 


While you're downtown, stop by Century 21 for some designer bargains. I also like Pearl River Mart for cool Asian stuff. Don't miss the basement level where they have loads of housewares. That's also where they keep the paper fans - stock up and you'll be glad come summer. Don't miss Macy's Herald Square. It gets considerably less insane away from the ground floor. Keep riding the escalators up until you hit the old wooden escalators- they're very old New York. Speaking of which…


You don't get much more Old New York than the '21' Club. The food is great, but pricy. More affordable is P.J. Clarke's. Get the burger. Trust me on this. Pizza in Manhattan can be iffy. Go to a place known for pizza, or head out to Brooklyn. Bagels are more reliable - I like Ess-A-Bagel. If you're seeing a Broadway Show, eat at Virgil's BBQ, Carmine's (Italian food) or Le Rivage (French food). Most of the other theater district restaurants are so-so, though I may be missing some of the good ones. Carmine's is better Italian food than you'll get in Little Italy. 

Eat at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Co. or the Hard Rock Cafe if you must, but what's the point of traveling if you're going to eat at the Olive Garden in a city that has loads of much better Italian food?

Shake Shack is totally worth the long line. Just don't be one of the assholes who reserves a table before they've even ordered. A table will clear up while your order is being prepared. There's no need to take a table from someone who's food will be ready 20 minutes before yours. Avoid the Theater District location because it's full of tourists who panic when they don't see any free tables and send someone off to grab a table when they're still going to be on line for half an hour. You know better, so avoid those jerks.

Oh, and FYI, they don't serve breakfast at Tiffany's. If you've seen the movie, Audrey Hepburn eats a bagel or some such while looking at Tiffany's windows. That's it. Yet some people think there's a restaurant in the store. So now you know.

Get Out of Manhattan

NYC is actually 5 boroughs, so get out of the city and see how the rest of us live. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It's really short. Ride the subway out to Coney Island in the summer - don't bother the rest of the year. Go to Queens for authentic international cuisine from Salvadoran to Indian and Thai. Visit the Bronx Zoo - The Botanic Garden and Belmont (aka Little Italy in the Bronx) are both within walking distance of the zoo. Even Staten Island has a zoo and a Botanic Garden complete with a replica of a Chinese Scholar's Garden.

Pick someplace and go. If you spend your whole visit in places full of tourists (like Times Square), you'll think that New York is crowded, noisy and unlivable. Really, it's just a few spots that are like that. And locals don't go there except to remind themselves why they never go there.

Thanks For Coming

Speaking of 9/11, this city was fucking deserted for a couple of months while the tourists stayed away (unnecessarily, as it turned out). I'm not gonna lie - it was nice being able to walk down a sidewalk in Midtown without having to maneuver around herds of wandering tourists. But it was nicer when they started coming back. We really are happy to have you all here. Just try not to make us late for work.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Leaving the In Between

There's a certain appeal to those in between places. Like the waiting area outside the gate at the airport. You've made it on time, the security nonsense is behind you and you just have some time to fill. All you can do is wait (and try to ignore all the TVs blaring CNN), so there's nothing to stress about. You even have enough room to sit comfortably until boarding time.

But in between is no way to live a life. And that's where I've been living for the past 2 years. Since things ended badly with The Kid, we've been waiting to dive back into the whole fostering/adoption thing. The first year, we had to recover emotionally and financially. Adopting a child from the foster system is cheaper than other methods, but it's not free. We spent more than we could afford on the months of visits before she moved in with us, only to spend even more buying her a new wardrobe because her previous foster mother didn't buy her anything and nothing fit anymore. This was going to be OK financially because you get a $20,000 tax credit when you adopt a child, so we'd be getting all that money back. Plus there would be some reimbursements from the system when the adoption was final.

But when you end up not adopting the kid, you can pretty much go fuck yourself. Even when the adoption doesn't work out partially because of things workers in the system did. Or when the kid shouldn't have been placed for adoption in the first place because their past made living in a family setting so upsetting that they harm themselves and others.

So we had to get ourselves back to the point where we could afford to buy another kid a bunch of clothes if we had to. All while paying out of pocket for a shrink to help me deal with everything. (You know how incompetent new mothers feel? Try being a new mother with 3 social workers criticizing everything you do.)

But we got back on our feet a year ago. Yet we didn't move forward with the kid thing because we knew it would be hard enough without me getting a migraine every other day - and that was what I was averaging a year ago. So we agreed to wait for me to have a good month. Not a whole month without a migraine, but a month where I had more than one good day in a row several times. 

We're still waiting for that, though I did have 4 whole good days in a row this month, so progress. Though that was followed by 5 migraines in 6 days, so fuck my life.

All this time, we've been paying to live in a two bedroom apartment without using the second bedroom. His Awesomeness started making his evening business calls in there. But I kept my office where it was - in the living room. I kept the door of that room closed as often as possible because that empty, useless bed only reminded me of my failures. Not just as a mother, but as a human being healthy enough to leave the apartment without getting winded.

Meanwhile, I've been stuck trying to work at home while the hearing impaired retiree upstairs blasts the TV at all hours of the day and night (and slams the door in my face when I ask him to turn it down). Of course, his TV is directly above the part of the living room where my desk is. Wireless headphones helped with that, but then I realized there's a better solution.

I told my husband that I was tired of living in this pathetic in between state. The bed needed to go into storage so I could reclaim my office space in the spare room. He even figured out a way to rearrange the closets so we could store the bed ourselves instead of paying for a storage locker somewhere.

It took him a couple of hours to move things around. It took me a couple of weeks to get everything in order, and I'm still not done, because migraines, but things are running smoothly at least. And I don't hear the jerk upstairs while I'm working.

So I'm no longer in between. It doesn't mean much. We're still planning on adopting when I'm feeling better. I'm still in too much pain too often to get my novel revised. I doubt I'll be blogging daily any time soon because I still have to save my scant energy for work writing. All it means is that I'm no longer in a holding pattern waiting to get physically better. Because who knows when the fuck that's going to happen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why Is Everything So Fucking Hard? the Sequel

This isn't me, but it might as well be.
When you have a chronic illness, the little things tend to pile up. So many had piled up that it was starting to nag at me, so I made a list and started working my way through it.

The first couple of things went smoothly - pay a bill, order more electrodes for my magic space tiara. The next thing - not so much. I called a doctor to ask them to call in a refill for my prescription, but since the doctor is on vacation I have to have the pharmacy call them. They can't call the pharmacy. Because.

I figured I'd walk over to the pharmacy later and ask them to call.

Then it was time to make an opthomologist appointment. The vision in one of my eyes has been a wee bit blurry, so it's kinda urgent. Good thing I already tracked down a conveniently located doc who takes my insurance.

So I called. Apparently, it's a big office with lots of doctors and "patient service specialists" who will take my call as soon as one becomes available. After a 5 minute wait, one does and then transfers me to billing to find out if the doctor (who is listed on my insurance company's website) actually is in network.

I got someone's voicemail in Billing, so I pressed 0 to talk to someone else. And the fancy, sophisticated phone system hung up on me.

So I called back. Waited only 3 minutes this time. Asked again about the insurance issue and the patient service specialist hung up on me when they tried to put me on hold or transfer me back to billing.

Because there was no fucking way I was going to start researching a new doctor at this point, I called back. Told them I'd been hung up on twice, so let's not do that again. The patient service specialist knew that the office took my insurance, but she wasn't sure about the doctor I'd asked about. She put me on hold for realsies, and came back to tell me that the doc does take my insurance and has an open appointment in 3 weeks. 

By then, my eye will either be better or really bad. I briefly considered traveling more than an hour to see my old opthomologist who usually has same day appointments. Then I asked if another doc in the practice had a sooner appointment. So now I only have to wait a week and a half.

By then I was starting to have a stabbing pain in my non-blurry eye - thanks for the migraine patient service specialists.

It then occurred to me that I could call the pharmacy and ask them to call the doctor's office instead of doing it in person. These are migraine rescue meds that only sort of help, but it's better than nothing.

So I call. And listen to an automated message about flu shots and immunizations and get very close to screaming in frustration because I actually need to get going to To Do list-related appointment. I finally get a pharmacy tech and ask her to call. She puts me on hold to deal with an in-store customer, and I have to repeat the whole thing when she gets back. Which is only annoying because I'm in pain. I loathe having to repeat myself when I have a migraine because the sound (and vibration) of my own voice hurts.

She informs me that I actually have refills on an earlier prescription for the same meds that I didn't know about. Rx#1 is for 18 pills a month - my insurance will pay for 12, which is fine, so she tries to process a refill. But she can't because the insurance will only pay for 12 a month and I just got 6 pills a couple of weeks ago. Because Rx#2 was for 30 pills. Not 30 pills a month, but 30. So they gave me 12 pills a month for 2 months, then gave me the 6 as a partial refill. For which I paid a $60 co-pay.

Still with me?

So my insurance will pay for 6 pills against Rx#1, but I'll have to pay another $60 co-pay. Because that's how co-pays work. This enrages me because it would've been cheaper to refill Rx#1 in the first place instead of getting half a month's supply from Rx#2. But I was completely unaware that I had refills left on Rx#1 and they completely overlooked that fact when I asked them why I only had a partial refill coming to me. So now if I want my pills, I have to pay $120 for 12 lousy pills instead of the $60 I have to pay every other time.

The insurance company, of course, is paying based on the actual cost of the pills. So they don't have to pay extra.

The pharmacy tech kept trying to explain to me how co-pays work, which I already know, but refused to answer me when I asked what the insurance company would do to them if they didn't charge me that second $60. The right answer, of course, is nothing, madam and in the interest of keeping your business we'll just waive that second co-pay. The answer I got was another explanation of how co-pays work and a, "so what do you want to do?"

By this point, I was definitely getting a migraine, thereby requiring me to take my last pill, so I told her I'd pay the 60 fucking dollars for the refill.

Now, my old rescue meds (which I'm also still getting because 12 pills a month doesn't cut it when I have almost daily migraines) cost about $2 a pill. I used to pay for them out of pocket to get around the insurance company's limit of 8 pills a month. This new medicine works slightly better, but costs something like $30 a pill, so I can't afford to go rogue and just pay for them.

For that kind of money, they should actually stop my migraines instead of just making them not so bad. I suspect they might work better if the dosage were higher since standard dosage is based on an 150-pound person and I weigh quite a bit more than that. But my doctor refuses to have that conversation. The first time I brought up the subject, he told me to lose weight. Which is so totally easy when you're in daily pain. The second time, he told me that you don't want to take too much of any medicine. which yeah fine, but you don't want to take too little either. Maybe third time's the charm. It only took me 2 visits to get him to prescribe the magic space tiara, so there's hope.

In contrast, the appointment I had was with a banker to rollover a wee amount of money into my Rollover IRA. I was the laziest nightmare client. Here's a statement from the old account that's over 6 months old, and BTW it's under my maiden name. And I opened up the IRA at a different branch, so it's assigned to some other guy I've never met.

But for a lousy $700 (I didn't work at that job long), they made it work. Changed the person assigned to the account, called the 401k people to get the paperwork started and figured out how to get the money into the account even though they're under different names. The banker even offered to help me do the paperwork when the 401k company e-mailed it to me, but it was super easy and only a couple of pages.

So, take my money and destroy the economy with it? They're all over that shit. Take my money in exchange for goods and services? They don't want to (or can't) make it easy.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Why Is Everything So Fucking Hard?

Making my own dye from berries
would've been easier.
So a few weeks ago, I realized that it was time to dye my hair because the roots were so long that I could finally get a good look at what my natural hair color is now. It's that gunmetal gray the cool kids are deliberately dying their hair these days, so I wondered if I should just dye it gray and go with it, but then I remembered that I'm 43 and no one will think my gray hair is trendy.

I'm saving money at the moment, and salon chemicals would probably give me a migraine, so I stayed with my usual home dye.

I looked for my specific shade of red in the drug store near me, and it wasn't there.

Nor was it in the second closest drug store. 

Or the third.

So I spent half an hour online looking for someplace that had both my hair dye and one other thing I needed. I didn't want to buy from Amazon because of the whole Hachette thing (in which they screw over authors while claiming that they're looking out for authors). It took me so long to find a place that I started to think that my specific shade was being discontinued.

Two days later, they e-mailed to say that both things were out of stock.

So I placed an order with Amazon. I switched to the shade I settled on last time when I couldn't find what I wanted. This one looks better thanks to an added potion that stains like a motherfucker. I may never get the stain out of the bathroom sink.

The order came, but it smelled chemically. I opened it, and everything seemed to be intact. I put it in the guest room where I don't go so that it wouldn't give me migraines.

Then I waited two weeks because I had a stye and couldn't wear my contacts and wasn't about to dye my hair while wearing glasses or flying blind.

Finally, finally! I was ready to dye my hair.

And discovered that the little plastic bubble of glaze (that makes the color look shiny and makes the whole thing less stinky so I can use it without getting a migraine) had ripped open and spilled all over everything. And was now empty.

The smell and the frustration gave me the start of a migraine, which pissed me off even more because I had a party to go to that night and now I had no hope of going because pain.

I took out some of this frustration on Amazon customer service who I had to call because hair dye is considered a hazardous material and you can't just mail it back or request a refund or replacement online.

They sent it rush shipping so that it would arrive two days later.

I saw the UPS truck parked outside my building on the appointed morning and saw the delivery guy take packages into my building. Yet he didn't buzz my apartment or knock on the door.

Online tracking verified that he had delivered my package into the package room which no one can actually get into. (It's the porter's job to hang out in the lobby as a part time doorman and give people their packages. Our porter has terminal brain cancer, so he's not doing that now. The management company hasn't brought in someone to take care of that duty, so we have to go to the super's apartment during specific hours when he's not actually there. So it can take weeks to get a package.)

I called the management company thinking that the super's assistant (who isn't quite up to being the new porter, but works around the building) had intercepted the delivery guy. But the online tracking included the name of the person who signed it, and it was the porter. (The management company also told me that the super is supposed to call people when they have a package, which he doesn't do.)

So the UPS guy bothered the guy who's dying. And doesn't need to be bothered with my hair dye delivery. So I complained to UPS because if the delivery guy knew where the porter lives, then he should also know that he's not on the job and should be left the fuck alone. Other UPS guys come to the individual apartments, so what was this guy's problem?

So His Awesomeness retrieved the package when he got home from work. 
The next morning I was finally able to dye my hair.

And got a migraine anyway.

Friday, July 4, 2014

I Hate Fireworks

There. I said it. I hate fireworks for the same reason I hate watching sports that don't involve a ridiculous obstacle course. They're boring as fuck. No drama at all. Yes, even the professional fireworks displays.

Oh look, colorful lights in the sky. And now there are more colorful lights in the sky. And now there are colorful lights in the shape of something. Apparently that's worthy of applause. Well, isn't that interesting?

There's more drama in a rerun on The Honeymooners. Hence the holiday marathon.

I don't like watching fireworks on TV even with the dramatic music and color commentators. Watching them while sitting on a lawn somewhere while being bitten by mosquitos and no-see-ums for hours while you wait for it to start? No thanks.

One year, His Awesomeness and I were in Chicago on the 4th. We sat out in the park with hundreds of other people waiting to see the fireworks because what the hell else were we going to do. There was a storm threatening, and the flashes of everyone's cameras as they documented the exciting sitting in the park and waiting kept making me think that there was lightning, which would due an excellent reason for getting the hell out of the park. HA realized this wasn't going to work, so we went back to the hotel and watched Deep Space Nine on DVD.

(Side note: I also fucking hate people who use a flash when taking pictures on the NYC subway. The locals are still a bit jumpy and the cars are well lit enough that you don't need a flash anyway so just give it a fucking rest.)

So anyway, people's attempts to convince me that fireworks are interesting actually make me hate them even more. The fireworks, not the people. I know I'm outnumbered here - like fireworks all you want. But when someone calls from the other room, "Jen! You have to come see this!" and it's just a bunch of colored lights in the sky? You have failed to impress me.

When I was a kid, I did enjoy setting off fireworks under the appropriate adult supervision. This was back before you could buy 1/4 of a stick of dynamite for fun. I enjoyed the feeling of power that comes with creating a big noise, of making something happen. But really, there are other ways to let kids feel empowered.

I started losing interest the year that I was supervising my younger cousins setting off some little fireworks that bounce around on the ground harmlessly unless you get too close. The people across the street had a yard below street level, and started setting off bottle rockets, not realizing that they were firing at us. One just missed my face.

One of my uncles used to be really in to setting off fireworks. Until one of his co-workers died in a fire started by a bottle rocket.

And let's not forget the explosion in the Grucci factory in 1983 that killed 2 fireworks professionals.

Fireworks are a bloodsport, and let's not forget it. And they're not even that interesting! Usually stuff that could get people killed is riveting. Even car racing has the whole race thing going for it.

But big noises and flashing lights? That's nothing to lose life and limb over.

Even though most people disagree with me, I know I'm right. If fireworks displays were so interesting, there would be a video game version. (In all fairness, there is a video game where you can create a fireworks display, but since it's on the Disney UK site, it's safe to say that it's for kids and we all know how easily impressed they are.)

So while everyone else is wringing their hands over whether or not Hurricane Arthur will interfere with their local fireworks display, I'll be saving my energy for all the other things I worry about unreasonably.