All posts by Joy

Hello 2008!

2008, here we all come. I’m actually excited about the coming year. I feel like things are actually falling into place. I love my job (here’s to hoping I can keep it past the date my contract expires) and I’m finally directing a show on my own. I’m equally excited about both of these opportunities.

My health is getting better by the day. My new obsession are vitamin supplements. I spent most of New Years Eve at Longs Drugs as I studied the vitamin aisle. I spent too much on vitamins and other things. But to be honest all of these random pills of vitamin bliss make me feel better. And hopefully in the long run they will help my health, which will make my medical bills cheaper.

And… I worked out at home yesterday on my new stability ball and my arms and belly are in pain. Yeay! I love how being in pain is a good thing when you’re trying to get fit. My arms are just killing me. So much for “free” workouts, but stability balls cost about $20 and they basically provide you with all you’d need for a workout. I ended up buying some weights, resistance bands and the ball, so I’ll have no excuse to avoid working out in the coming year.

I hope, by 2009, I will have a flat stomach and a lot less fat on my thighs. I guess that’s a New Years resolution. But I’m seriously going to keep it.

I vow to start focusing on actually saving my money, and not spending it on needless things. I’m going to be on time (10 minutes early) to everything, unless its like a party that I should be late to. I will be a good girlfriend… no more mood swings and being afraid of a long term relationship and trying to push my bf away. No more alcohol (besides the occasional glass of red wine with dinner). No more giant desserts. Focusing on the now, not tomorrow, or the next day. Making friends and keeping friends. Not hitting on my friends. ;P

It’s going to be a good year. A great year. And I’m ready for it.

Whole Wheat Pasta = Great for Living Alone

Living alone and cooking usually sucks because recipes have you make 6-12 servings and you end up having tons of leftovers that go to waste (or you force yourself to eat the leftovers and get so tired of the food that you’ll never make it again!)

Up until a few weeks ago, my diet consisted of cereal and microwavable dinners for just that reason. But now I’m experimenting with fresh cooked meals that won’t leave me with tons of leftovers.

That’s one reason I love pasta. You can make as much or as little of it as you need. Feel like a half serving? Go for it, just measure it out and bam, there’s your half serving. The rest of the pasta can stay in its packaging for whenever else you feel like eating pasta again. Also, whole wheat pasta is actually pretty healthy, as long as you eat the right portion size. I’m in love with Whole Foods’ 365 Organic whole wheat pastas. Here’s some pics of what I’ve made thus far…

1/2 serving of the rolly kind of pasta with 365 Organic fat free tomato sauce (35 calories a serving… I used a half serving of it since I’m not a big tomato sauce fan, but it’s much healthier than the cream alternative I used to use). I also fried some pre-flavored tofu in 1 tsp of oil (it got nice and crunchy… prob overcooked) and threw that in for protein and texture. It was pretty good.

A week or so ago I made another pasta dish with linguine, steamed broccoli & cauliflower and fried tofu. I added a little salt and pepper and it tasted amazing!

(Note: I made two servings of this because I cooked dinner for me & my boyfriend.)

Got any other suggestions for quick and healthy pasta meals?

health insurance – success?

After leaving off my ‘depression/anxiety’ on my healthcare application, I was approved. So now I have a $3000 deductible plan with an HSA from Aetna for $129 a month. That’s not too bad, I guess. Of course, my defined pre-existing conditions aren’t covered (so if my ovaries explode due to cysts, I’m SOL.) I can’t use the high-deductible plan for mental care services, so I don’t think they’ll ever have a reason to check my mental health history. Basically, I have the plan in case I’m in a car accident and my limbs are torn apart or something.

More on this later.

I Am a Failure at Cooking

So in case you’re wondering, the Yam came out about half edible. I ate more than that half, because I’m behind in my calorie count for the day (sheesh.) I’m not sure what I did wrong. I “buttered” the sweet potato (with smart balance light spread), poked it with a fork a few times, wrapped it in aluminum foil, and put it in the oven on a baking tray. I left it in for 45 minutes, then checked on it. Hard. Left it in for another 15 minutes, still hard. After 15 more minutes I took it out and gave up.

I cut the Yam in half, as it seemed the other half of this gigantic yam might be better suited for this recipe I found online for making mashed sweet potatoes out of baked sweet potato leftovers. Just add a little bit of butter and a bit of milk, some cinnamon and after some heavy-duty mashing, viola, mashed sweet potatoes.

Here’s what I got:

Maybe I used too much milk?

Now the mush of milky yam clump soup is in my freezer. I’m freezing it because I don’t want to throw it out, and the freezing will prolong its ability to be reheated almost indefinitely, or at least until it starts growing weird freezer mold.

Why is cooking so damn hard?

This Post is Brought to You By the Letter "Y" – Yoga and Yams

Y seems to be the letter of the day. I attempted to not look like a fool at a Yoga class at the gym, and now I’m attempting to bake a Yam. I’m not sure if it’s working.

This week is a bit weird because I’m working from home without any office visits, so I tend to make the most out of my days enjoying the sunlight (or watching daytime television) and then I stay up until the wee hours of the morning getting work done (I’ll be doing that tonight.)

First thing today, I went to meet with a photographer I met on model mayhem. Every once in a while I like to model for fun. By no means do I look like a typical model (I’m short and a wee bit stumpy), but I photograph decently and some photographers don’t mind taking photographs of girls who look more like girls and less like giraffes. I saw his work online and it was impressive… plus he lives a few towns over, so it’s easy to get to his studio. We scheduled a shoot for tomorrow for some basic headshots. Modeling is a fun, free activity that I can do to keep myself entertained every once and again. Not all photographers are willing to shoot for free, but a lot of students (or older hobbyists trying to build up portfolios) are willing to do TFP (time for print) trades. It’s a pretty good deal, especially since if you want nice photos otherwise you’d have to pay a lot of money. I need some new headshots for this show I’m directing in a few months, and headshots I shall be getting. Hopefully they will be nice.

After the brief meeting with the photographer, I made a pit stop at the mall (shouldn’t have done that!) to find a shirt to wear for the photoshoot tomorrow. I spent way too much time trying on anything half decent in Macy’s and Nordstrom, and then settled on a cute fushica psuedo wrap by Matty M. The only photo they have of it online is in blue (I almost bought the blue one too, but I restrained myself to one overpriced shirt for the day).

Following my impromptu bad-decision shopping adventure, I headed to the library to photocopy a bunch of old doctors bills and other things that needed copying in order to get reimbursed for things and apply for the California High Risk Pool insurance.

While I was copying my denial letter from Pacific Care, I noticed that on the second page (that I hadn’t read) it noted the actual reason for my denial (drumroll please): irregular periods.

Oh, come on. Most women I know have irregular periods. Either they’re really heavy, or absent for a while and then show up at random times. Ok, so for me, they never show up. But still, that wasn’t noted on my application.

Ugh.

Anyway, following my short stay at the library, I met up with my bf at my house, and we went to the gym to try out the Hatha Yoga class they had. Both of us are Yoga newbies (though I’ve taken a few classes before since my Aunt works in the Yoga industry). He was in a bad mood and didn’t want to go, but I made him come with me since we had planned on attending the class.

It was an ok class. I didn’t really know what to expect of a yoga class at a big gym. We did a couple of poses, I stretched myself in ways that hurt like a bitch, and during the meditation part of the class I couldn’t “concentrate on my inner being” with all of the loud weight slamming noises puncturing the soothing Zen soundtrack our French-with-thick-accent Yoga instructor had put on while our eyes were closed.

After Yoga, I tried to motivate myself to do some other actual exercise at the gym. I did a shoulder press thing and a rowing exercise, and then my nagging boyfriend made me leave. Oh well.

We stopped at Whole Foods on the way home, where I grabbed the Yam (brilliant realization of the day — sweet potatoes are yams!), a few apples (yeay, pink laddy apples were on sale) and enough kiwis to last a week.

Then I came home and started to bake this yam, following the instructions of a few random internet recipes. Aluminum foil, oven to 400 degrees, an hour of baking, how hard can it be?

Well, that seems to be the problem. My Yam is still very, very hard. It smells good though. I should check on it now and see how it’s doing.

Oh, speaking of cooking, I’m very excited about the gift my boyfriend bought me for the holidays — a food scale! I can weigh all of my portions, so I know I’m not going overboard. It’s really a marvelous contraption. I’m such a born again healthgeektard that I’m practically in love with the thing.

Alright, time to check on the giant yam.

How to Become and Be a Mystery Shopper in 10 Steps

GG requested a post explaining how to get started as a mystery shopper a few weeks back, and with some time off over Christmas week I finally have a few minutes to write up this Mystery Shopping Primer.

First off, decide if you want to be a mystery shopper.
The idea of shopping for “free” and getting “free” meals and other goods seems like a no brainer, but bare in mind that just because money (likely) won’t exchange hands in this deal, it still requires a great deal of work. Mystery shoppers are hired by companies to spy on their workers and make sure that while the big boss isn’t looking, employees are following the rules and doing a good job. This means that you’ll have to interact with people, and if they’re not following the rules, you’ll have to be a paid tattletale. How do you feel about being a spy? Don’t mind it? Think it sounds exciting? Ok, here’s what you need to get started:

1. Find mystery shopping companies that offer shops in your area.
If you live in a big city, chances are there will be a firm with local shops. Don’t be discouraged if you live in the boonies, though. There are plenty of mystery shopping firms that hire mystery shoppers to check on shops far removed from major metropolitan areas. They might be a bit harder to find, but they do exist.

2. Don’t Get Scammed!!!
Don’t sign up for any sites that require you to pay a fee in order to get information on these companies. If you do a Google search for mystery shopping, you’ll likely find yourself on one of these pages that promises to reveal the secrets of mystery shopping if you pay a few bucks. Don’t fall for that. MyMommyBiz has a list of over 200 supposed mystery shopping firms. When you find a few that seem reputable, do a search for them on the Better Business Bureau website to make sure there isn’t anything obviously wrong with your choices. ***beware, there are lots of mystery shopping scams on the Internet. If the company asks you to cash a check and then wire them the money, DO NOT DO THIS. The check will bounce and you will be responsible to pay for the missing funds.

3. Apply.
Each company has its own specific sign-up process. Most require you to fill out some short test to prove that you have a brain and that you’ll be able to do the job. My experience as a mystery shopper is limited to working for one company called Coyle Hospitality. I don’t remember the specifics of the Coyle Hospitality sign-up since I completed it a long time ago (and it’s likely changed since I applied), but I do remember it being quite thorough. A lot of times, the company will ask you why you want to be a mystery shopper. I’m not sure if there is a right or wrong answer to this question. Just be honest, and make sure to answer the questions that have right or wrong answers correctly. SecretShopper.com‘s application has all of the answers to the questions on the top of the page, and then the quiz posted lower down. It’s easy to get the answers right, but you can also see how someone who is incompetent for the job would easily just guess at the answers and not get picked.

4. Wait.
Unfortunately, the few legit mystery shopping companies get a lot of applications and it takes a while to hear back regarding whether you’ve been accepted into one of the coveted mystery shopper slots.

5. You’re In. Congrats!
If you’re “lucky” enough to get chosen, you’ll likely be greeted with more information to study before you are allowed out on a shop. I recommend reading this information thoroughly, as you’ll seriously regret not paying attention to it after you’ve completed a shop and you’ve failed to do it properly.

6. Apply for a Shop.
Most of the companies either post available shops on their sites (behind password-protected doors, of course) or send out an e-mail about shops in your area. Some, like Coyle, post all the shops once per month and send out an e-mail letting shoppers know that the assignments are up. Sign up for your choices are soon as possible, because the shops worth doing won’t last long.

7. Wait, again.
Depending on the company and how popular the assignment is, you might get the shop the next day, the next week, or you might never hear back regarding the specific shop. Tough luck, try again. That’s how these companies roll. You just have to keep trying and eventually you’ll land your very first mystery shopping experience.

8. Shop.
For the first time in your life, the thought of shopping or dining at a fine restaurant will cause you great anxiety. You will have a long list of things you have to do, say, ask and remember. If you mess up, what’s the worst that can happen? It depends on the company. Coyle ranks your submissions on a point system up to 20. If you score below 16, you’re pretty much fired. With Coyle, you have to foot the bill up front for your meals, spa experiences or hotel stays. They say they reimburse just about everyone as long as you turn in your completed report, but it’s definitely nerve-wracking to think that if you mess up, you might have to be responsible for that $300 hotel stay. Thus far, I’ve only done fine dining shops, and I’ve been paid back for each assignment on the 25th of the month, as promised.

9. Fill Out the Paperwork
Here comes the hard part. After you’ve stressed out about following the instructions and remembering your communications with employees, you get to return home and spend the next couple of hours slaving over your computer, trying to put together an accurate report for the company. Trust me, it’s not that easy. I spent over five hours working on my last report about a horrible dining experience I had, and in the end I scored a 16. What did I do wrong? Well, you have to note the times everything happened, and put the same times on a few different pages in your report. It’s easy to accidentally write a slightly different time on one page of the report and, even after thorough fact checking, still make a mistake.

10. Submit Your Work, and Wait.
Usually you’ll hear back within the next few days to a week about your report. Either they’ll ask for more information, or you will be told that your report is complete. This means you’ll be reimbursed for your shop. Hallelujah!

That’s it.

If you’ve shopped with any other companies, I’m curious to hear about your experience with them. What kind of shops did you do?

The only other company that accepted me kept trying to get me to do a gas station shop in Oregon for about $15. Being that I live in the Bay Area, I kindly declined (well, actually ignored) that opportunity.

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Michael Moore’s SiCKO

I’m not sure how appropriate of a Christmas Eve movie selection it was (I’m Jewish, so what do I know?), but my boyfriend and I cuddled up on his couch and watched Michael Moore’s SiCKO last night. As you all likely know, I’m dealing with being one of the millions of Americans that can’t get health insurance for one reason or another. So I thought perhaps SiCKO would help enlighten me a bit about the American health system and perhaps help me figure out a way to get around it.

While I’m not the biggest Michael Moore fan (and that says a lot, since I’m pretty much a socialist), I think that the film is worth watching. As with any Moore film, you can’t expect it to be journalism because it doesn’t present an unbiased cover of the issue. Instead, Moore uses the stories that best make his argument. Lucky for him, his base argument – that the American healthcare system is f’d up – is one that many people would agree with, regardless of political leaning. However, he uses the movie to show how wonderful the healthcare systems are in places like Canada, England, France and yes, even Cuba. It turns out that getting free healthcare in these countries is a piece of cake, or so he’d like us to believe. While I’m sure that’s not always the case, the fact remains that in America, people like me, suffering from pre-existing conditions, can’t get low-cost (or any) healthcare in our country, while in other countries, these “evil” liberal societies, getting healthcare – at least basic healthcare – would not be an issue for me. It would be covered by the government.

The most shocking part of SiCKO was not how great the healthcare in these other countries is… because it all seemed too perfect, and I wanted to know the other side that Mr. Moore was so carefully hiding to make his argument.

The part that really made me cry was the story of one mother who had an infant who got sick. Her baby had a 104 fever and was burning up fast. What’s saddest of all is that this mother was insured. She had Kaiser – which is apparently a health insurance company that requires all its patients to go to its hospital and its hospital alone, regardless of how serious the emergency. Unfortunately, the Kaiser hospital was not extremely close to her house, so the ambulance that came when she called 911 took her and her child to the local hospital… which then refused to accept her because Kaiser wanted them to go to the Kaiser Hospital.

Long story short, by the time she drove her kid to Kaiser, the kid was basically DOA (dead on arrival.) That story really made me mad.

There’s really no denying that our healthcare system is terribly messed up in this country. The question is, how can we fix it? I think socialized medicine works in countries like Cuba, England and France because they are all much smaller than America. Obviously Cuba is struggling with some things, but healthcare? Well, all of its citizens seem to be pretty damn healthy, thanks for cheap meds and a hospital on nearly every block.

Moore is apparently in deep doo doo for going to Cuba without permission (he brings with him a few 9/11 rescue volunteers who are ill from lung conditions but not able to get healthcare to cover their health problems). But that part of the movie is a fascinating look into Cuba… this country that we’re all told is hell on earth (as he so humorously illustrates.) It might not be the best place to live (why else would Cubans try to get to Florida by swimming across the ocean?) but at least there the citizens can get proper healthcare.

I wonder what would work for America. It seems so anti-American to have a system that provides fair and equal coverage to every citizen. Isn’t our country built on the premise that the poor must get poorer for the rich to get richer? With that backing our democracy, how can healthcare be fixed? Isn’t America working BECAUSE the poor people are too sick to fight the system? Too busy working three jobs a day to vote?

That’s America.

On the same topic, I recently read that fellow PF blogger LuluGal of “How to Save Money” had to have an emergency hospital stay earlier this month that set her back $500. You can read all about how she suddenly took ill, passed out, and ended up needing surgery. The $500 must be her bill after insurance paid (it would be much more than that without insurance), but that’s still a hefty bill to pay when you’re in debt or trying to save money.

Since it is the season of giving, how about everyone who reads my blog consider donating a few bucks to Lulu? I don’t know this gal, but I think it would be nice for us to help her out. I just sent her 2 bucks. She has a PayPal donation account set up for her page, which is attached to the bottom of every entry. You can click on this text link to donate also.

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You Lose Some, You Win Some…

I’ve been “playing” this weird Bluefly.com sweepstakes game that involves… well, I’m not even sure what it involves really, but the point is that you can win “shopping sprees” on the site or the grande prize of a trip to the Project Runway finale. I admit, my initial interest in the contest was the main prize, but the thought of winning one of the smaller prizes intrigued me.

So I played the game. I clicked on the silly banner link they e-mailed to me every day for the past month (well, almost) and that took me to a flash game that made absolutely no sense and pretty much was a waste of my time. Well, today, I clicked on the link and… I didn’t even get to the “game”… I just saw a screen that said “Congratulations, You Won a $100 Bluefly Shopping Spree.”

According to the contest rules, I won “second prize.” Over the entire period of the contest, “NINETY (90) SECOND PRIZES (two (2) per day)” would be awarded. Not too shabby, and a nice ending to a rough day…

Awesome, I thought, but what’s the catch? (There’s ALWAYS a catch, right?)

It turns out there isn’t a catch, or at least I didn’t let myself fall for it. The majority of items on the site are well over the $100 I won, and it’s easy to want to buy multiple items because the shipping is “$7.65 for an order” of as many things as you want to buy. It seems this contest was rigged to give out this “prize” right after the Christmas shopping frenzy ended. Why not use this as a way to try to get shoppers to buy more of the items on the site?

Surely, I was tempted. After browsing through the site for a month I’m practically on a first-name basis with all the left-over designer items waiting the day when they will be adopted by fashion-forward savings feens. So it was tough to force myself to add just one item to my shopping cart and click purchase.

I settled on a fairly basic black cashmere shirt…

It’s cute, right? A little interesting poof on the sleeve so I felt like I was getting something a little unique for my “prize” money, but without buying something that I’m never going to wear just because I had the extra cash to spend. I really hate shopping online for clothes because it takes me hours to find things that fit in the store, and it’s a crap shoot at guessing what sizes in each designers specific measurements will fit my… uh… Rubenesque figure.

In the end, I spent an extra $26 that I didn’t expect to be spending this evening. On one hand, that’s kind of a dumb move, because I just spent $125 on Christmas gifts. But… it does feel good to get a $275 cashmere shirt for $26 (that’s including shipping). Here’s to hoping the shirt actually fits when it shows up!

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Things are Never Ever As Simple as They Seem

1. ING Direct
Frustration Level: AH!
I’m trying to set up an ING Orange Direct account. The sign up process seems simple enough. Except after filling out all the information, I get an e-mail saying I have to give them a call to complete the process. Fine, that’s easy enough. So I call them. And apparently they have my social security number wrong on the account. Did I type it in wrong? Probably. That’s my fault entirely, but instead of being able to just go online and fix it, I need to wait for them to mail me a form, then I need to sign that form, then I need to mail (or fax) that form back in order for the account to be officially set up.

2. AT&T
Frustration Level: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!AH!AHHHH!AHH!

A couple of days ago I notice a $106.41 charge from AT&T on my bank statement. “What is this charge from AT&T,” I think to myself, “I don’t have an AT&T account… anymore.” For my last job, I made the mistake of agreeing to sign up for a cell phone plan for work with my credit card. My company reimbursed me for the phone and my monthly payments, but I knew the situation wouldn’t be pretty if I ever had to leave the company.

Fast forward a few months and the job isn’t working out. Tying up loose ends isn’t too hard, except for figuring out what to do with the phone… that has a two year contract existing as a parasite on my bank account. That last day of work was awkward to say the least, as it took forever to go through AT&T customer service and have them transfer my number and account to my boss’s main AT&T account.

What was supposed to happen? The account would be transferred to his collection of AT&T numbers, and he would pay the lowest monthly rate possible for the additional line from then on out, or until he hired another employee who would use the phone.

The customer service rep tried to convince us to hold off on the transfer, since the $100 rebate on the phone was still processing. My boss decided to just transfer the account then and there (without the rebate.) The customer service rep agreed and said that the account would be transferred with the next billing cycle. That would be the end of it, right?

Well, that would be the end of it for anyone else on this earth. But for me, that was only the beginning.

Fast forward another couple of months, until today. I call up AT&T to try to figure out what this mysterious charge on my statement is. Of course I can’t remember the old phone number off the top of my head (eventually I digg it out of my brain), and the first few minutes of the call are fruitless as they tell me my name doesn’t seem to exist within the system. Great. Finally I remember the number and viola, my account does exist and… oh look, they’re still billing me for auto payments. What else? They have no record of the conversation I had with their customer service department and my boss in October. Ok, now what?

I talk to one guy who is a complete waste of time. He basically says since they have no record of this conversation taking place, I have to get my old boss to talk to them again in order to transfer the account. I also have to be on the phone at the same time for all of this to work, because I need to give permission with him on the phone… nevermind that I did this in October.

But wait, 15 minutes more of my bitching brings out the fact that my account indeed has the conversation about the transfer noted on it. It says something about how the transfer didn’t go through because we were waiting on the rebate. That’s wrong, I inform him, but he doesn’t seem to care what I say.

Finally he transfers me to “transfer services” where they basically give me the same spiel. Oh, but here’s the best part, they find all of the proper authorization on the account to transfer it over, BUT, here’s the big BUT, it’s more than 60 days old so it’s no longer valid. WHAT? At this point, I’m ready to punch something. And I rarely get this pissed off. But this is just ridiculous.

So they get my old boss on the phone. Great. He’s a busy guy. He’s a VERY busy guy. He doesn’t have time for this BS. His time is money. And this stupid phone is already costing him enough money.

Hopefully the transfer went through this time. I hung up because my personal cell phone, on Verizon, was blasting through my monthly minutes (heck, I may have gone over on this annoying call), I hung up before the entire process was completed. I figured the rest of the transfer had to be done on my boss’s end, so there was no point waiting on hold for another hour.

Now, after all of this trouble, wouldn’t it be nice for AT&T to just refund us the money for the past two months when the account should have been on the lowest plan ($39.99 a month or less) and instead charged me (and ultimately him) $108 a month? Nah. He noted my account, but I have to call another number and argue with them for hours until maybe they’ll refund me the money. Now, ultimately this will be my bosses’ money, but because the account was in my name at the time, I have to be the one to call up and complain about this and try to get the monthly bills changed.

You know what, I felt bad about it so I did call back up and tried to do this. I was sent to the wrong representative and then when she forwarded me to the “right” rep, I was put on hold for seven minutes. The first few minutes I had some lovely make-me-want-to-go-hunting-for-large-animals-and-cut-open-their-flesh wait music, but then there was silence. Eventually, I hung up.

So now….? Well, I need to file a reimbursement form with my old company after putting them through all of this trouble. If they were a big company I wouldn’t feel that bad, but they’re a small startup and I really don’t want to make them have to deal with this crap.

Well, that’s my frustrations of the day.

Merry Christmas to all, from the Frustrated Jew.