Saturday, October 27, 2012

Workers Credit Union

There used to be a television commercial for a well known credit card company that used the tagline "Membership has its privileges."  One area where membership definitely has its rewards is belonging to a credit union.  Credit unions all have some requirements for membership, such as working for a particular company or having a family member that works for that company.

There is a Credit union Massachusetts that has a fairly simple membership requirement.  You don't have to work for a particular company.  You don't have to do business with a particular business.  You just have to live or work in Massachusetts or the southern New Hampshire area.  That credit union is the Workers Credit Union.

Workers Credit Union is located in the north central region of Massachusetts and has 14 branch locations.  Like a lot of credit unions, they belong to a network of over 1300 shared credit union branches where you can do banking without incurring any fees.  That way, if you are on vacation or move away from the Massachusetts area, you can still take advantage of your credit union membership.

Workers Credit Union offers a full range of financial services no matter what your banking needs are.  They have savings accounts, checking accounts, CDs, IRAs, loans, and credit cards for individuals at competitive rates.  They offer planning services to pay for college education and for retirement. You can have all of the benefits of banking at a big bank, without all of the fees.  So remember, membership does have its privileges, especially at a credit union.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Benefits Fair & Open Enrollment

Open enrollment for my 2013 benefits officially opened this week.  I have two weeks to decide whether or not I will bite the bullet and commit to paying for the huge increase in my health insurance premium.  To keep my current health insurance, and thus be able to keep my current family doctor, my share of the premium will go up $200 per month.

I always like to go to the benefits fair even though I rarely change insurance plans.  I can always count on restocking my pen supply during these events.  All of the companies at the event have some sort of raffle for prizes like cookbooks, blenders, and exercise equipment.  Besides, I was hoping to have the opportunity to ask somebody about the big increase in my health insurance premium.

As luck would have it, I did get the opportunity.  When I arrived at the fair, there was one of the managers from our corporate benefits office at one of the tables and nobody else was occupying her time.  I seized on the opportunity to ask why my share of the premium went up 30%.  It was no surprise to me when she told me that the primary reason was due to the health care reform bill, or Obamacare.

Obamacare, or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as it is officially known, is proving to be anything but affordable.  Since the law was passed, my share of the premium has nearly doubled.  My salary has not kept pace.  Beginning in January, I will have $800 per month withheld from my paycheck to pay for health insurance for my family.

I really started to think about that figure.  It is nearly as much as my primary mortgage each month.  I could have a vacation home with what I am paying for health insurance.  Both my wife and I are driving cars with excess of 100,000 miles on them.  Repairs are becoming more and more frequent for both vehicles.  With $800 per month, I could easily afford two car payments.

Combine the increased health insurance premium with the expected end of the 2% payroll tax holiday and potential expiration of the Bush tax rates and things don't look good for 2013.  It may not be all bad.  I recently contacted my mortgage company to see if there was a possibility of refinancing under HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program.)  

Previously, I did not qualify, but now they say that the guidelines have been relaxed so that I do.  If the loan is approved, my mortgage will drop enough to cover the increased premiums and the expiration of the payroll tax holiday.  So at the very least, for one more year, I may be able to tread water for another year.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Iron Chef Michael Symon

I have a confession.  I watch a lot of the Food Network.  My favorite shows tend to be the ones that are more competitive in nature.  I guess you could chalk that up to the sports fan in me.  That is not to say that I don't also enjoy some of the other shows that are less competitive in nature.  Shows like Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, especially when they feature restaurants local to my area are also a favorite.

As I said, my favorite shows on the network tend to be the more competition oriented shows.  I have watched several seasons of The Next Food Network Star, The Worst Cooks in America, and The Next Iron Chef.  Needless to say, since I am a fan of The Next Iron Chef that I am also a fan of the original Iron Chef America.  One of my favorite Iron Chef's is Michael Symon who one the first season of The Next Iron Chef.

One of the reasons that I like Chef Symon so much is that he has a very engaging personality.  He just seems like he is a lot of fun. He also has an infectious and distinctive laugh.  Another reason that I like him is his support of Autism Speaks.  When appearing on a celebrity version of the show Chopped, his charity was Autism Speaks.  Unfortunately, he did not win that competition.

Today, I had the pleasure of getting to meet Michael Symon.  He was appearing at the Williams & Sonoma store in Annapolis mall this afternoon signing copies of his new cookbook Carnivore.  It has been a while since I attended any kind of signing, so I wasn't sure what to expect as far as a line or wait.  I am used to attending signings of sports stars, and have had to wait a couple hours or more to get my autographs.

Symon was scheduled to start signing at noon today.  I got to the store shortly after 11 am and bought my copy of the book.  It was then that I saw the rather long line waiting to get in to see him.  It didn't look that bad.  I decided to go ahead and get in line rather than walk around the mall and window shop.  It was then that I noticed that they were already allowing people to go in.  Symon had gotten there almost an hour early and started signing right away.  That has never happened at any signing I have ever attended before.

The line moved pretty quickly, and entered the store right around noon.  While waiting my turn, Symon was out of my field of vision, but I could easily hear his distinctive laugh.  When it was my turn, he noticed my Benedictine shirt (my son's school) and started a conversation because his father attend a Benedictine school in Cleveland.  We had a brief and nice conversation.

The entire event was very well organized.  Williams & Sonoma had people who wrote sticky notes to put in the books for how you wanted your book personalized.  They had people who would take pictures for you if you had a camera.  I have included two of the four pictures they took with my camera phone.  I was also impressed that Symon started signing early.  I was able to get in and out early enough to get home in time for the Redskins game.

Since I have been home, I have been browsing through the cookbook.  There are a lot of recipes that I am looking forward to trying.  Unfortunately, my wife could not attend the event with me.  I raved to her about how nice a guy Michael Symon was.  She now thinks I have a man-crush on him.  I don't know if I would classify it as a man-crush, but I do admire the man.  Now if I could just get him to fix me a few of these dishes. Michael, I will bring the wine.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Music Monday-Night Ranger "When You Close Your Eyes"

One of my favorite bands from the 80's, Night Ranger, has a new album coming out in a few weeks. It is a live, acoustic CD and DVD of their greatest hits. It sounds like it will be interesting. I will have to think about picking it up. Besides, Jack Blades, one of the lead vocalists with Night Ranger has thrown his support behind Mitt Romney and performed at the GOP convention.  So he has to have my support.

Come join Music Monday and share your songs with us. Rules are simple. Leave ONLY the ACTUAL LINK POST here and grab the code below and place it at your blog entry. You can grab this code at LadyJava's Lounge Please note these links are STRICTLY for Music Monday participants only. All others will be deleted without prejudice.   PS: Because of spamming purposes, the linky will be closed on Thursday of each week at midnight, Malaysian Time. Thank you!
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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Screwed Either Way

For those that may have found me through DudeWrite, no, this is not a follow up to my post More Money, More Fun.

Do you remember when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, forever to be known as Obamacare, was being pushed through Congress and fought for by Barack Obama back in 2009?  Do you remember when Barack Obama said that if you like your insurance and your doctor you will be able to keep them?  I sure do.

Here is another question for you.  Did you believe him?  I sure didn't.  In fact, I even said so here.  Do you believe him now?  If so, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I am willing to make you a sweetheart deal on.  When the law was being discussed, I wrote a post that suggested that there would be businesses that would drop coverage as it would be cheaper to drop coverage and pay the penalty than it would be to provide insurance coverage.

One study recently showed that 10% of businesses would drop health insurance coverage for their employees and pay the penalty.  Last year, another survey suggested that as many as 30% of companies might drop employer provided health care.  The final number will probably come up somewhere between the two numbers.

You may be asking why I bring this up all of a sudden.  Simply because it is time for open enrollment at my work place and it is weighing heavily on my mind.  My share of my current health insurance is slated to go up 30% in 2013 compared to this year.  Combine that with the expected end of the 2% Social Security tax holiday and it doesn't look like a good start to the new year. God forbid they don't pass some sort of extension on the so called "Bush era tax cuts."

To be honest, I am not sure where to place the blame for the increase on my current health insurance coverage.  It could be due to an increase from the health insurance company, or it could be that my employer is trying to force everybody into a different health care plan.  One thing that I am fairly confident of is that we can somehow relate it to Obamacare and its full implementation in 2014.

The reason I say this is because of something that I saw in a trade journal that talked about the potential penalties a business could face when the penalties go into effect in 2014.  For those companies that offer insurance, but fail to offer "affordable" plans to their employees, they could face a $3000 per employee penalty.  They define "affordable" as a plan in which the employee's share of the premium is less than 9.5% of their salary.  Entering 2013, my plan will be nearly 14% of my salary.

My thinking is that one of two things is going on in the options available to me at my work place.  Either my company is trying to force everybody into a plan that would qualify under the 9.5% rule, or they are passing on the potential penalty to those that want to keep their current plan.  In reality, it is probably a  little bit of both of these scenarios.

So how does this impact me, since after all, it is all about me.  When my new insurance premium goes into effect in 2013, my share of the premium will be almost 14% of my salary.  That would make my company liable for a $3000 penalty.  Not surprisingly, the increase of my share of the premium is nearly $2500, almost the entire amount of the premium.  Coincidence? I think not.

My point is, that going into 2013, there are two plans that my share of the premium would be below the 9.5% of my salary threshold as set forth by Obamacare, neither of which is palatable to me and my family situation.  One option would be to switch to Kaiser Permanente which would mean we would lose the family doctor we have had for 16 years.  The other would be to go to a plan with a high deductible and out of pocket expenses that I just can't afford.

I do not know what the future holds.  All I know is that in 2010 when Obamacare passed,my share of my health insurance went up 20%.  This year, it is going up another 30%.  All told, my share of my health care has gone up 67% in 4 years.  As a percentage of my salary, the share as gone from about 9% to almost 14%.  Needless to say, that doesn't leave much room for much else.  So I end by asking, is Obamacare "affordable" or not.  Not from where I sit.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


I decided to take a little walk around my neighborhood to get a little exercise.  On my walk, I discovered some mushrooms growing on the side of the road.  One tip that I had read recently for improving your photographic technique is to try taking photos from a different perspective.  So rather than photographing these mushrooms from a standing or squatting position, I got down on my stomach to take the shot.

The photo was taken with my NikonD40x with an 18-55mm zoom lens set at a focal length of 19mm.  ISO was set at 100 with a shutter speed 1/100s and an aperature of f/5.

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Planning for the Future

Ever since my son turned 18 years old earlier this year, my wife and I have been busy trying to accomplish several things to benefit him.  Since he is completely disabled, the first thing that we did was to start the process of trying to get him Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits through the Social Security Administration.

That adventure took a couple of different turns.  Our first visit to Social Security was scheduled for two months prior to his 18th birthday.  We were originally told that we should apply prior to his 18th birthday so that by the time that it was approved he could start to get benefits right at his birthday.  Once we were in our meeting with Social Security, we were told we should wait until he turns 18 because otherwise they would consider our income when determining his eligibility for benefits.

A couple weeks after he turned 18, we headed back to the Social Security office to apply.  We had filled out the application and answered all of the required questions.  A few short weeks later, we received word that our son had been approved for SSI benefits, which he started receiving in June, albeit at a one third reduction due to their determination that he was receiving in kind support from us.

There are a lot of rules involved with SSI.  One of them is that in order for my son to continue to receive benefits, his total assets have to remain below $2000.  For that reason, we have also had to take some steps for estate planning should anything happen to my wife and I.  As part of that planning, we have had to set up a special needs trust so that any assets would not go directly to our son so that his assets will remain under $2000.

One of the things I was not aware of is that all wills have to go through probate.  I had always heard the horror stories of dying without a will and having your estate go through the probate courts.  It turns out that even with a will, the estate must go through probate in your state.  So, if you are in Texas, you have to through texas probate, and in Maryland, Maryland probate.  Having a will that specify how you want your estate handled makes the whole process easier.  For the sake of your loved ones, be sure to plan for the future.
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Monday, October 8, 2012

Music Monday-George Strait "Chill of an Early Fall"

In my previous post, I used the phrase "chill of an early fall."  That was the title of an old George Strait song.  Happy Music Monday!


Come join Music Monday and share your songs with us. Rules are simple. Leave ONLY the ACTUAL LINK POST here and grab the code below and place it at your blog entry. You can grab this code at LadyJava's Lounge Please note these links are STRICTLY for Music Monday participants only. All others will be deleted without prejudice.   PS: Because of spamming purposes, the linky will be closed on Thursday of each week at midnight, Malaysian Time. Thank you!
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Fall:Cooler and Darker

Have you noticed that it is starting to get dark a little earlier each day?  It has been much more noticeable for me when I am out driving around on Friday and Saturday nights for my part time pizza delivery gig.  I have to turn my headlights on much earlier in my shift than I was just a week or two ago.

In addition to it getting dark a little earlier each day, it is also starting to get a little more brisk temperature wise.  I have had to start breaking out the long sleeve shirts and sweatshirts.  The last two days, we have had low temperatures in the 40's at night and it is forecast to be in the 40's the rest of the week.  As I sit here this evening, I am considering fixing myself a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

To be perfectly honest, I don't mind the chill of an early fall.  In fact, I prefer the cooler weather to the oppressive heat of summer.  My way of thinking is that I can always put more clothes on to feel comfortable in the cool weather.  There is only so many clothes that you can take off in the summer, and even then you can be pretty uncomfortable.

While I like the cooler weather, I am not so jazzed up about it getting darker earlier.  Then, when you combine the shorter daylight hours with setting the clock back in a few weeks, it makes pizza delivery that much harder.  A lot of the house numbers that I deliver to are hard to read from the street because the street lights and house lights don't light the numbers very well.

It is when I have difficulty seeing some of these numbers that I end up having thoughts that might be a bit out of the ordinary.  I think it would be nice if some of these houses had some airport lighting to make it easier to see.  I mean if an airplane can see those lights, then it will help me to see the house numbers.  Who knows, with the Christmas holidays not that far away, maybe there will be some decorations put up similar to those put up by Tim Taylor in the Home Improvement television show.
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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Time and a Place

English: Canvass for a Cause field organizers ...
English: Canvass for a Cause field organizers working on the ground in Maryland to build support for the upcoming initiative to Legalize marriage equality. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I make no bones about the fact that I tend to lean a little bit to the right in regards to my political affiliations. OK, there are those that might label me a "right wing extremist." It is a badge that I wear with honor.  Just take a quick gander through this blog and read through my Twitter feed, and you will no doubt come to the conclusion that I am 100% conservative.

Though I am proudly and unabashedly conservative, there are certain areas of my life where I do not wear my conservatism on sleeve.  For instance, I do not broadcast my political views in the office place for all the world to see.  That is not to say that if it comes up in conversation with a coworker that I won't express my leanings, but I do not go out of my way to express those views.  There are some places where I just don't feel it's appropriate.

Most of the places that I have worked have more or less had a policy in place that basically instructed employees not to discuss political issues.  As the old saying goes, there are two things you don't want to discuss in polite company, politics and religion.  I think it is probably a wise policy to have in place as it can help to keep the peace.

So, it has surprised me to see one particular individual boldly showing her support for a political issue, and a controversial one at that.  On a regular basis, she wears a button urging people to "Vote for Marriage Equality" in support of ballot question 6 on Maryland's ballot on whether or not the state should allow same sex marriage.

Maybe it's just me, but that doesn't seem to me to be appropriate to be wearing in an office setting.  It isn't the subject matter of the button that bothers me.  It just doesn't seem professional to me.  I would have no problem with her sporting a bumper sticker on her car or campaigning for her cause outside of the office.  One should be involved in causes they believe in.

It would probably be inappropriate of me to make a comment about how her appearance matches the stereotypical look of a butch lesbian but I won't go there.  Oops, I just did.  Seriously though, I am not sure how I will vote on this particular issue.  I don't have strong feelings either way, though I might be leaning a bit one side based on this post.

In all seriousness though, do you think it is appropriate to wear any type of political button/statement in the work place?  I wouldn't wear a button or have a plaque on my desk promoting the Romney/Ryan ticket.  Nor would I express my support or opposition to a ballot initiative like Question 6 here in Maryland.  Now, if we could have another Ronald Reagan, that would be another matter entirely.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Pink Flower

Last month, I bought the Ion Pics2SD film, slide, and photo scanner.  I have been in the process of going back and scanning a lot of my old photographs and slides.

This photo was taken of some pink flowers in front of my house using the technique of zooming through the entire focal length of my zoom lens during the exposure to create the zoom effect.  I was pretty happy with the way this one turned out.

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