Archive for the ‘Rant’ Category

Winning the Financial Aid Lottery

Monday, February 1st, 2010

I’ve been home sick for several days, so I took the opportunity to file some of the required college financial aid forms online. This is the third year I’ve done this, so I should know what to do and when to do it, right?

The first part was a breeze. I actually knew the password and log-in names, and the FAFSA pre-filled last year’s information and just asked me to see if it was correct. What a breeze! I had worried because my taxes weren’t done, but I had my W-2 laying right there. No problem! Hmmm, new marital status, what kind of trouble is that going to cause? Just check the box? Great!

Moving along, breezing through the pages, then we come to: Parent(s) income____. Parent(s) other income______. Parent(s) income that you are trying to hide_______. I feel guilty only filling in one box. What if I hid it from myself?

Then we had: Income Tax paid (from line 56.)_____. There is nothing on line 56. But there is an amount owed on line 57. Is that the right amount? Why is it on the wrong line? Why don’t they just sync up with the IRS and get this stuff themselves?

Parent(s) total of cash, savings and checking accounts_____. Sometimes I lie on this one. I figure if I put what it really is, they won’t believe me. So I add a few hundred.

Parent(s) assets____. ZERO! Okay, done.

But now I need to file the CSS Profile. You need to be a CPA to figure that one out. Oh, you’ve never done that? Thank your child for choosing a school that doesn’t need a sample of DNA to hand out financial aid.

There are six different questions about retirement income. Which one to choose? Is my retirement plan sponsored? Will I get Social Security? Will you give my kid enough college help that she can take care of me in my old age? Is there a line for that?

What is your sister’s name? Where does she go to school? How much is her tuition? Do we get tax exempt interest? Why are Railroad Retirement benefits a separate category from any other? Credits to be received—how do I know? I don’t have them yet. And the best line of all: Cash expected to be received or any money expected to be paid on your behalf_______. Do I need to estimate the amount each aunt or uncle or grandparent is likely to send on her birthday? What about her graduation gifts? If she finds a quarter on the sidewalk, is there a line for that?

Maybe it isn’t really that bad, but getting financial aid for college is not for the faint of heart. I think that these forms are the first place that schools cut students who really don’t need the money. The parents with good college savings plans just close the window and send cash. The rich parents pay their accountants to do it.

For those who persevere, though, you just might win the financial aid lottery. And for the two years of aid my son has already been given, I’d like to say THANKS!

The Tip of the Day

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Who invented tipping? How did such a silly system get started, who makes the rules, and why are they in charge of my money? I’d love to know who “they” are so I can ask some questions that never seem to be answered.

Who gets tipped? Who decided who gets tipped? You tip the waitress, but not the cook. Tip your hairdresser but not if she owns the salon. Tip the paperboy, but what if you pay your bill by mail? I never see the paperboy. If he gets no tip, he won’t know if it’s because he leaves the paper in the bushes every day or if I’m just cheap. I never have a chance to tell him.

Cab drivers get tipped. Bus drivers don’t. Bus drivers have a harder job! And what if the cab driver owns his cab, is that like the hairdresser who owns the salon? How would you know if he owned the cab?

When I was a waitress, a hundred years ago, we expected a ten percent tip. We were very happy when we got fifteen percent and anything higher was like Christmas. Dinner for four might be around $20, and if we got $2 that was fine. Now, dinner for four at the same kind of place is probably $40, and a $4 tip would equal the percentage we got back then. Dinner is twice as much, the waitress gets twice the tip. But the wait staff expects $6 to $8 instead. Inflation, they say. But if food prices are inflated, tips are automatically higher at the same percentage. Why did the percentage increase?

And why do we tip based on the check anyway? I have had dinner recently with the same friend at the same restaurant several times. One evening, we had steaks and appetizers, and the meal was fairly expensive. More recently, we had sandwiches, and our bill was less than half what we’d paid before. We were in the same restaurant, in the same room, the waitress did the same amount of work waiting on us, and we stayed about the same length of time. So one evening, she earned $4 for waiting on us, while another she earned $8, and the only difference was the type of food she carried out to us. Not only is that senseless to me, it’s unfair to her! While we sat at her table in the crowded room, other diners came in and ordered expensive meals, but she missed the bigger tips because we weren’t that hungry. Why don’t we tip based on length of time at the table or how many trips the wait staff makes to refill glasses and bread and get your steak cooked correctly? (Actually, I do base my tip on these things. Why doesn’t everyone?)

I don’t want to search for the sign that says not to tip the valet, or figure out how many bags I have to know what to tip the bellman. I don’t want to decide if the doorman has done enough to merit a tip or just a thank you, and what do I do with the concierge? People, let’s rebel! There is enough anxiety in the world. We should be enjoying the strolling violinist, not thinking about whether we have to tip him. If Congress wants to pass a helpful wage law, how about one that makes businesses pay people who work for them and outlaws tipping? It’s always right to smile and thank someone for good service. It’s extra nice to send a note to management complimenting an employee who has provided excellent service. Let’s spare them the insult of not being tipped correctly by someone who couldn’t decide what tip was expected!

Someday, My Prince….

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

My blog title promises that you will get glimpses into the life of a princess. Just think about that. You come here and read that headline, and get all excited thinking you’ll finally know how royalty really lives. And then you read about me cleaning my bathroom.

When a friend helped me set up the blog and chose that title, I thought it was funny. I’m not a princess. I’m like the total opposite of the prissy, girly-girl image. I made him take it off. But he seemed so disappointed that I let him put it back. I didn’t figure anyone would ever read it anyway.

The more I think about it, though, the more I think he may be right. I may not have a crown in my jewelry box, but I think I’m destined to be a princess. As my sister-in-law has pointed out on more than one occasion, I think the rules don’t apply to me. She’s right. My mom doesn’t allow eating in the living room, but I eat there. It’s not that I think rules are unimportant. Other people need them.

I have always wanted to be a princess. My cousin and I would lie in bed at night when she came to visit and talk about what our lives would be like when we married our princes. How we would have lovely clothes and maids and canopy beds on pedestals with velvet curtains all around. I was so sure it would happen!

So why does the life of a princess involve cooking and cleaning? Where’s my driver? There is not a single velvet thing in my entire bedroom! The only princess who ever cleaned anything in a fairy tale was Cinderella, and that was only until her prince came. WHERE’S MY PRINCE?

Personally, I blame it all on Walt Disney. All those princess movies with the helpful little birds and animals were far too believeable. I had long hair, why couldn’t I be Rapunzle? He even taught us to all sing along– “someday my prince will come….” Why didn’t our mothers tell us that when he got here, we’d have to pick up his socks every day? And that princes don’t like canopy beds with velvet curtains? And that crowns are heavy and make your neck hurt?

So maybe the life of a princess isn’t as carefree as a Disney movie. And maybe even real princesses sometimes clean the toilet. Occasionally I even follow the rules. Velvet curtains would just get dusty. But my prince is coming.

Stress!

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

My life is a little stressful and confusing right now. Everyone’s life is stressful and confusing by the time you hit 45, I think. I have noticed lately that all of my friends, whether happily married or divorced, rich or poor, raising kids or empty nesters, healthy or ill, have stress of some kind going on in their lives, and most of them have multiple problems. Just like me. Just like you, probably.

Recently, when having a complete meltdown because of a setback I wasn’t expecting, a friend told me I should “see my doctor and ask if Zoloft is right for me.” Well, that’s not exactly how she put it, but the idea was that I could handle life better with a “mother’s little helper.” I pointed out that I didn’t like the idea of taking medication and was unwilling to risk the side effects. One must be very cautious before deciding to take medicines that could cause more harm than good. This is serious stuff.

AM I OLD???? Was that the pharmacy queen who used to be the go-to person if you had a headache, sniffles, gas, bee sting, heart attack or the plague? Being born on the edge of the generation that believed in sex, drugs and rock and roll, shouldn’t I be thrilled with the idea of being given happy pills legitimately? I’ve seen those commercials where the bubbles are floating around in their peaceful little world. Don’t I want that? I could get hit with all life’s crap and just smile and float away! Isn’t this a good thing?

Somehow, though, I think that maybe the stressful part of life right now is teaching me some things about myself, and the world, and God. The lessons are hard and I don’t like them. Yes, sometimes they make me cry and sometimes I want to throw things and kick my feet and protest that it’s NOT FAIR!  But growing hurts. Children cry with leg aches when they grow sometimes. Mental pain is different, but the cause is the same. Sometimes growing hurts. I can take the happy pills and avoid the pain. But if it doesn’t hurt, will I learn the lessons? Will I change enough to avoid the mistakes I made in the past? Or will I just float along pretending that my life is fine the way it is?

Quit yelling, I know that some people really need medication to get through stressful times. Some people need it to deal with life every day. If that works for them, I see no problem with it. My decision has to do with whether it works for me. Maybe I would be more effective, maybe my house would be neater, maybe I wouldn’t cry as much. But maybe I wouldn’t learn to make better choices. Maybe I wouldn’t laugh as hard, or rejoice as fully. And maybe in choosing to feel the pain, I have already started to grow.

Just Send Chocolate

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Today I have been trying to clear my desk off, and I finally sorted the huge stack of coupons that I faithfully clip from the paper every Sunday in an effort to save a few bucks. It also included the coupons I download and print from websites and the ones that Kroger sends me for being a good little shopper. And I’d just like to send an open letter to the kind purveyors of all this largess:

Dear Manufacturers,

I just finished sorting and filing my coupons so I can go to the grocery store. Most of them were already expired. I have sad news for you. Women are too busy to always sort the coupons the week you print them. If you can’t put an expiration date on the coupon that is at least three months long, don’t bother. Six months would be much better.

That means that I will have time to use up the shower lotion that I only need in winter and I can use the coupon for a new bottle in October. In August, it just makes me sticky. Thank you for making the amount either $.50 or $1.00, because the ones that are $.55 don’t double and that’s just an annoying tease—so close to being worth a dollar if only you’d been a nickle chintzier. And the tiny little print you use for the expiration date? Whatever new college grad marketing genius picked the font should be fired. Thank you so much! Your faithful customer.

Yeah, I can hear it now. The born organized women out there are shaking their fingers at me and pointing out that if I would just sort them as I clipped them, it would be so much easier.

Dear Women who always sort the coupons as soon as you cut them out, which you do on the day you receive them,

Shut up! We hate you. If our lives were organized enough to do that, we’d be the queen of the world and wouldn’t need to clip coupons. No offense.

Your ordinary Sidetracked Home Executive sisters.

I guess that told THEM! Now where was I….oh, yes:

Dear Manufacturers,

Forget the coupons. Just send chocolate. Thank you.

Bugs!

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Today my daughter decided to cook red beans and rice. Talking about the origins of the dish brought up crawfish. Here is a subject that I have a definite opinion about. I know there are people out there who like these things, but frankly, crawfish (or MUDBUGS, as they’re called in some places) are just giant roaches. I expressed this opinion, and my friend (a guy, which, as you will see, is an important distinction,) pointed out that they’re more like mini-lobsters. Well, I totally agree with that. Because lobsters are just really giant roaches. They’re BUGS. They don’t even really swim, they crawl around in the bottom of the ocean or lake or stream. They have long antennas and googly eyes. They have more legs than any creature really needs. They’re BUGS and you’d might as well just have a nice bowl of chocolate covered ants for desert. Shrimp are bugs, too.

Over the years, several people (all male) have tried to convince me that eating giant water bugs would be a great idea, especially dipped in butter or shrimp sauce. Once, a guy did his best to get me to order escargot as an appetizer. Escargot, if you aren’t familiar with it, is land bugs with a French name and a lot of garlic. I secretly believe that instead of trying to impress a date by spending big money on French bugs, the real purpose of urging women to eat these things is so that men can laugh at us behind our backs. “Did you see what she ate? She thought it was food, but it was just BUGS!!” I believe that Adam started this as soon as his boys were old enough to understand the concept of grossing mom out. My proof of this theory is that I’ve never had another woman urge me to eat any of these foods. I know women who eat them, but they were all tricked by men, either their fathers or their dates.

There is a great advantage in not eating giant water bugs. I never have to agonize in a restaurant over whether to spend the extra money for shrimp cocktail. I’m perfectly happy with chips and salsa. I have never had the indignity of being wrapped in a bib as an adult. I don’t have to drag my appetizer out of a slippery mobile home that it never actually occupied in life anyway. If a guy wants to gross me out, he’s going to have to do better than that.

And don’t think the blood running out of your steak is going to do it. I get half.

Lost in Automation

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

I am on medication for high blood pressure. My insurance company pays part of the cost for this medicine, and that’s nice. They also send me fliers and magazines and emails about wellness, which include ideas on lowering blood pressure without medicine-smart, since if I quit taking it, they won’t be paying for it. I have a suggestion to help them with this endeavor. HIRE AN OPERATOR!

Yes, today I called my insurance company. The woman who answered the phone had a fairly pleasant voice with a flat mid-western accent. She greeted me nicely and asked if I was a provider or a patient. That’s when my blood pressure started to rise. I REFUSE to speak to a computer as if it were a real person. Sorry, I’m not going to do it. If a computer is going to answer the phone and route my call, it should be easy to tell by the “press one” list that the company is saving money by not hiring a real person to do this job (and thank you for not hiring India.) See, I also called my cellphone company today, and while I hate their menus and “press one” instructions, at least I don’t feel like an idiot. Talking to the nice fake lady makes me feel like a freak. (And no, she won’t let me bypass her questions by pressing zero. She is a tyrant.)

Once, after ranting to the poor woman who finally answered the phone, I found out that each choice the fake lady gives has a corresponding number on your phone, so yes is one, no is two, and in a list of choices, just count each one and press the number. So I no longer speak to the fake lady, ever. But there is also no “undo” among the choices, so every mistake means beginning again (para espanol, el prima DOS.)

So my health suffers a little more each time I’m forced to speak to my insurance company. My blood pressure is higher, my stroke risk soars. But that’s what insurance is for.