Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween 2012

I have to admit - I'm feeling like more of a Halloween failure this year than in past years. I blame Pinterest. And all my crafty, DIY blog friends. The store-bought valley girl and Captain Hook costumes do rock, and the kids loved them, but this year I've felt like I should have done more. But, the pumpkins got carved, the kids are happily ripping into their candy now, and we're waiting for the handful of kids who bother shlepping down our street to come by.

You can see Halloween 2004 to 2010 here. I still love that post so much. And for the sake of completeness on the blog, here are some shots from 2011 that didn't get posted at the time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Boo. Florida Fun and #Fails

(Title Edited on July 5, 2013. I keep getting a ton of spam hits on this post and am trying to break the original link. Thus, Boo.)

I went to visit my best friend Julie in Naples, Florida, this past weekend ALL BY MYSELF. Yes, that deserves full caps lock, because I have never gone anywhere on my own just for fun, with no big event or reason to go, since becoming a parent. When Julie moved there last year, I promised I'd come visit, but finding a weekend that worked was difficult and I kept putting it off. But when I won a free round trip ticket from JetBlue at an event this summer, I finally had the impetus to get myself there.

I've talked a lot about Julie on the here over the years, but I still think it's amazing that the very first person I met in college ended up becoming one of my best friends. Our dorm rooms were across the hall from each other freshman year, and neither of our roommates had arrived yet when we met each other. It's been a privilege to share these last 16 years with her, and we still have plenty to talk about (even if we spend inordinate amounts of time discussing TV shows).

So a weekend with no agenda, other than to celebrate my birthday, was a real treat. The first order of business was pedicures, and then lunch and a swim in the development where Julie and her husband Mike live. Note the coconuts growing in the palm tree!

That evening we drove to a complex called Tin City, where we were going to take a sunset cruise out to the Gulf of Mexico. We had some time to kill and decided to get a drink and share an appetizer. The place we went was having a happy hour, a "2-for-1" as they explained it. We tried to clarify a bit and were told that everything on the menu except for one drink was just that, 2-for-1. So we each ordered a drink and an appetizer, and as you can see, we were pretty happy about it.

And then the bill came, and we were charged full price for everything. Because 2-for-1 meant we could have each had a second of everything for free. We didn't have time for more drinks or food, so that ended up being a disappointing happy hour #fail. Maybe we should have had more happy hour experience under our belts before trying that one.

But the sunset cruise was fabulous. The guides on the boat were super informative and entertaining, and we both really enjoyed learning more about the history of the area and its (really, really wealthy) inhabitants. Here are some of my amazing photos from the boat.

As the sun set and we made our way back to the dock, we saw amazing lightening strikes in the clouds, and I'd never seen anything like it before. It didn't actually rain, but it was fascinating to watch. Almost as fascinating as it was to see Julie eat kale as part of Mike's excellent Shabbat dinner later that night. :) (But it was really good kale!)

Our plan for Saturday was to go to the beach. I was particularly looking forward to it, as somehow I hadn't gone to the beach all summer. Despite reports of red tide, we were assured that levels were low, and the parking garage attendant (yes, the beach had a parking garage!) joyfully waved us in. As soon as we got out of the car, there was a smell, but we didn't identify it right away. As it turned out, there was a huge festival on the beach, and tons of people that we had to walk through before finding a spot to put our stuff down. When we finally made our way to the water, we were confronted with lots and lots of dead fish. Seriously, a lot. If you look at the photo below (click on it to enlarge it), there are white things bobbing in the waves - more dead fish. We didn't even stick our toes in, but lots of other people were out there attempting to surf and enjoy the beach. We stuck it out for an hour before heading back to the pool, as it was too hot to sit there and not be able to go in the water. So, beach #fail, but redeemed with our picnic at the pool and great people-watching.

Later that afternoon we went to the fanciest movie theater ever, Silverspot Cinema. There is assigned seating and premium food, including my custom made pretzel, which required a pager and a ten minute wait (it tasted like every other pretzel I've ever had :) ). We saw "Argo," which was really, really well done and suspenseful.

And this is the point where I seem to have tired of my camera, as I didn't take any more pictures. Mike joined us to celebrate my birthday with dinner at USS Nemo (where there was a hummus #fail, as #fail had become the running joke of the weekend at that point). All in all, it was a great ending to 34 and a fun-filled start to 35.

I really enjoyed my time away from home, though I missed Marc and the kids a lot. It was weird to be traveling without them, but I loved having the time to zip through the entire first season of "Homeland" in just a few days. And I got to come back home to this.
Thanks Julie and Mike for having me!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Health Insurance With A Side of Condescension

About a year ago, I shared news with you all about my plans for some new treatment measures for my diabetes. While the continuous glucose monitor (CGM) didn't work out for me as well as I'd hoped, it was a useful short-term tool, and I have to say that I've taken much better care of myself this year. My numbers are good (but not so good that I'm battling lows regularly), I'm exercising and watching what I eat a little better, and importantly, testing my blood sugar at least three times a day to keep myself on track. The CGM has become the threat for me, that if I don't keep myself doing the right things, I will force myself to go back on it. It made me so stressed out and miserable, that it's a very effective threat.

I've said before that I'm not the model diabetes patient, but on the whole, I do a lot of what I'm supposed to do. I always take my meds. I keep my blood sugar in a good range. I get annual eye exams and blood work done regularly for all of the testing I need. Apparently, though, that's not the norm, and rather than seeing me as an exception, I'm lumped into this class of diabetes patients that, evidently, are total idiots. Otherwise, why would I get the following call from my insurance company? (Follow the link to listen.)

"Hello, this is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts calling Cheryl with an important health-related message. This is not a telemarketing or election-related call. If you have diabetes, or know someone who does, please note that there are several diabetes tests that should be performed on a yearly basis. People who have diabetes have an increased risk of eye disease, and that is the reason why an eye examination specially designed for diabetics called a dialated [sic] retinal eye exam is recommended at least once every year. It is also recommended that people with diabetes have a cholesterol check, foot examination, special blood test called HBA1C to measure blood sugar levels and a urine test for kidney function on at least a yearly basis. Too often, events in our lives are outside our control. However, lifestyle changes within our control can enrich our quality of life. If your physician has already prescribed medication, or recommended lifestyle changes, a healthy diet, regular exercise and tobacco-free lifestyle, we encourage you to follow your physician's advice. Please continue as instructed. If you have diabetes and have not had all of these services, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts encourages you to call your physician to discuss if you need any of these tests. Thank you, and as always, we wish you the best of health."

Eighty-seven seconds of a voicemail message that left me quite upset. Regardless of the fact that if anyone should know if I've gone to my doctor for those tests, IT'S THE INSURANCE COMPANY THAT'S PAYING FOR THEM, I can't imagine there are too many doctors out there saying "you have diabetes and never ever need to do anything about it ever again." Or that there are so many diabetics who receive a diagnosis and don't do anything about it themselves (trust me, high blood sugar makes you feel horrible, and you can't go on living that way indefinitely). You can't even watch television without ads for glucose meters popping up every few minutes. The HBA1C blood test is the minimum standard for care, a test I've probably had at least two dozen times. There are so many built-in checks in the healthcare system too, like prescriptions that expire, forcing you to make contact with a doctor to get them renewed. And there are a whole class of diabetics like myself that "lifestyle changes" aren't going to help very much. Yea, having diabetes is an event that's "outside my control."

I don't mean to make light of what my insurance company is trying to do here (except for where they pronounced the name of the eye test wrong. Come on.), but simply calling every single patient with a "diabetes" box checked and no further refinement of their data is obnoxious. I'd actually had my blood work done just two days before receiving this call. Rather than empower me to take care of my health, the message made me feel like people with diabetes are incapable of managing their lives. The elementary level diabetes education it provided, to someone who has been dealing with this disease for a very long time, and aware of it for even longer than that, was simply condescending.

As always, I am very grateful to my employer for providing me with health insurance in the first place. But with so much political discussion around healthcare reform and insurance, it seems to me that this message isn't an effective use of anyone's premium dollars. Except maybe as blog fodder.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hey! Hi! How are you?

It's only been 10 days since my last post, but that is beginning to feel like an eternity to me, so a catch up post is in order. I promise it's been a really busy 10 days.
- I took a day off from work to shop and prep for our annual sukkah party. Of course the only picture I got around to taking was of the food, but isn't that the best part of any party anyway? We had a great afternoon. At one point, it seemed like every portion of the house was in use all at once, which was pretty cool. We attended a couple of other Sukkot events, and I was finally in the mood for the holiday...
- Just in time for it to end. But we had a nice night at temple for Simchat Torah. We've started to make Max practice the Shema, the most important Jewish prayer, as a year from now it'll be his consecration and he'll need to know how to say it then. One of the lines ends with "Adonai echad" and he has been substituting "laolam va'ed." If you know which two prayers I'm referencing, you'll see how easy it is for him to have made that mistake - yet I've never thought of it that way myself before.
- Tuesday saw me up early to do the 6 am Zumba class at the JCC, which I am hoping to make a regular habit again now that the holidays are behind us. I'm no longer seeing my personal trainer, but am still making an effort to keep exercising. I also took the kids for their flu mists and Max for a haircut, and was happy to be able to work late that day and shift my hours to accommodate my life.
- On Wednesday Marc and I closed on the refinancing of our house, and it was by far the smoothest experience we've had with these processes. This time, I handled the process entirely, and it was fun to be the primary borrower for the first time in my life. Yes, I am a total loan nerd. :)
- Thursday found me at the dentist for two tiny fillings that were adjacent to each other. I am a HUGE wimp when it comes to dental pain, and my jaw is still a bit sore 72 hours later. I actually skipped out on attending a social event that night because I knew how miserable I'd be!
- Friday was really busy at work, completing a major project and doing a film shoot for a new webcast with my bosses. Saturday we were back at synagogue for a family service, then we went to the Newton Harvest Festival and Ana and I went to see "Pitch Perfect" that night. Today has been another packed day with another workout, cleaning and laundry, and working with Hannah on a huge school project.

And yes, it's looking like a busy week ahead. But, I'm leaving for Naples, Florida, BY MYSELF, on Thursday. I'll be spending my birthday weekend with Julie. It's still in the 80's there and we will be going to a beach. I am super excited for this time away and a chance to slow down a bit. It sounds like a good way to start off the second half of this decade.

A couple extra cute pictures, just because I can. How're things with you?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Truth About (My) Maternity Leave

Marissa Mayer, the newly appointed CEO of Yahoo!, gave birth to her son earlier this week, and the flurry of articles on the state of her maternity leave have been published. I've found it hard to read a lot of them, since they are critical of her choice to spend little time at home, and work through that time as much as she sees fit.

I understand that for many women, the idea of working while parenting a newborn is a complete non-starter. But I don't believe that's true for all women. Because it wasn't true for me.

When Hannah was born in 2004 and Max in 2008, I was very fortunate to be working for companies that provided some version of a paid twelve week maternity leave, and I took full advantage of it. I loved the chance to be home with my babies, both to recover physically and get used to all of the demands that parenthood requires. However, I was never completely unplugged from the office.

The first thing I did after coming home from the hospital with Hannah? I logged into my work email account. Four years later while in labor with Max, I was sending work emails from my Blackberry between contractions. Maybe it's just my overachieving nature or my desire to control things, but I still spent those weeks plugged in to what was happening in my offices to whatever degree I could - and I was a 26 and 30 year old insignificant player in all of it. I put pressure on myself - not my bosses, just this internal compulsion - to keep my head in the game, to not miss out, to prove that I was worthy. I can only imagine that Mayer, in the position she holds, hears that same internal pressure even more loudly than I did.

When I wasn't thinking about work, I was fairly immersed in other things. With Hannah, I still took one class towards the completion of my MBA, and made reruns of "The West Wing" a scheduling priority (this is pre-DVR, people!). With Max, I was obsessed with the Obama-Clinton primary races, and I still had to pick up Hannah from school each day. One of my proudest parenting moments was getting Hannah and six day old Max to Hannah's first ballet class on a super cold and icy day, being as put together myself as I could be while trying to figure out how to breastfeed on the go. My house was always clean, the laundry was always done. I always showered, even if I didn't put on the cutest outfits afterward. I'm sure there were rough days where I let things go, but generally, I stayed on top of a lot of it. That's just who I am.

Again, I was very fortunate. I didn't suffer from postpartum depression, my children were healthy, I had a lot of advantages. Hopefully for Mayer, she's in a similar position.

But here's the thing: Mayer's position is different because she is in fact a CEO. She has the power to prove that family-friendly policies like maternity leave (and heck, even paternity leave!) can be put in place at a company and the company can still do well! She has the chance to encourage and support her employees, and to grant them access to the programs they need to start off family life on the right foot. She has a platform to encourage benefits like these throughout corporate life and beyond. And if she does, it's likely that her employees are going to be motivated to do more and better for their company. It certainly worked that way for me.

So I get it if Mayer wants to, needs to, work. It's not about her choice there. For me, it's about the choices she can afford to others.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Live Music Files: Mixfest and Idina Menzel

Since my second most-read blog post* is on a concert I attended a while back, I figured it was worth writing up the two shows I saw during the month of September. Yes, two! I'm amazed myself.
Fifteen years after attending my first Mixfest, I was back for more. Mixfest is a free concert given by a local radio station, and the first time I went was while a sophomore in college, the Sunday date in 1997. Here's Carol and me from that night - yes, I had bangs before bangs were cool. I think we were waiting for the Barenaked Ladies to take the stage when this was taken.
It was a bit different to be there again, this time as a parent. Max was annoying for about 80% of the time we were there. The band Train was the headlining attraction, and Max loves the song "Hey Soul Sister." When they finally played it, the reaction on Max's face was priceless. Hannah loved being a part of the huge crowd, even as it began to rain harder during the finale. You can see Pat Monahan from Train on the TV screen above (and the clouds rolling in at the start of the show).

This past weekend, Marc and I went to see Idina Menzel in concert. I didn't have the opportunity to see her in her starring roles in "RENT" or "Wicked," so I wasn't about to let this time pass me by.
The concert was phenomenal. I expected the songs from her shows and the anecdotes she sprinkled throughout the two hour concert, but I didn't expect her to be so personable and as open as she was. She talked about how hard it is to be a working mom, which you all know is one of my favorite topics. She reminded the crowd multiple times that she's Jewish, including singing a bit of "Ma Nishtana" when asking why tonight was different when she wasn't being pushed off stage at the 90-minute mark. She sang "At the Ballet" from "A Chorus Line" as a tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, and one of my all-time favorite songs, Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes." With that one, she quickly transitioned from another song, and with the first word, just simply "love," I gasped, knowing what was to come. She sang "For Good" a Capella, which was lovely to hear in the giant Wang Theatre, and invited audience members to duet with her on "Take Me or Leave Me." It was such a great show, and reminded me once again that I need to see more live music. I hope I get another opportunity to do so soon!

*You may be wondering what my most-read blog post is after that link above. It's this one.