Archive for the “General” Category

I’ve been too busy to write with the kids starting kindergarten, but wanted to pass along this video I found yesterday.

Enjoy!

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About 15 years ago, I knew a NATCAvist named Billy Bob. If you have to know his last name to remember him, you just didn’t know Billy Bob. Those were the days when NATCAvists contacted each other via pager (remember gang pages?), telephone, fax and snail mail. Cell phones weren’t widely prevalent yet; we were just coming out of the thankfully-short bag/car phone era. It wasn’t unusual for us to leave a page saying “I’m working tonight, can I call you about midnight your time?” And the other to leave a page responding, “Whatever works for you, bro.”

I needed info from Billy Bob for one thing or another and we hit it off immediately and became fast friends. I probably didn’t see him in person more than a handful of times before his death, but we sure burned up telephone minutes. We’d talk about NATCA, complain about the FAA, discuss our lives and sometimes talk about nothing much at all. Billy Bob was one of those people who could surprise a belly laugh out of me fairly frequently.

I know my husband would’ve liked him and my kids would’ve liked to have an Uncle Billy Bob and stomp around in his cowboy boots. They never got the chance to meet him; he died far too young. Part of me is ashamed to say I don’t remember a lot of specifics of most of our long-distance conversations, but whenever I think of him, I smile. Looking back, I’d say Billy Bob was a junkyard dog: fiercely protective and loyal to those he cared about and mean as the dickens to those he felt threatened them. Maybe I could’ve come up with a gentler comparison, but I imagine he’s in his version of heaven right now, drink in hand, kicked back, laughingly shaking his head, saying “yeah, that fits, sister.”

I started thinking a lot about him because of these posts (one, two, three) by Praxis Foundation. I don’t know who Praxis is, but I’ve added him or her to my RSS feeds and I’m looking forward to reading more. You see, there is one conversation with Billy Bob that I do remember quite clearly. So I started thinking about writing this. Then I saw today’s post at Praxis and knew I needed to get this out, if only for me.

I think there were some people who underestimated the sharp mind behind the name and southern drawl that was Billy Bob. During that long ago late night conversation with Billy Bob, we were discussing fiberoptics. He told me, “Mark my words, Vivian. The FAA’s setting themselves up to remote terminal radars and towers. They’re going to reduce the number of TRACONs to a number closer to what we have for centers and they’re going to want us to control all the tower traffic that they haven’t contracted out from some huge complex in Kansas or something.”

I’ve never forgotten that conversation because at the time, working traffic at Boston Tower, the thought of NOT seeing my traffic terrified me (still does). Even if every vehicle and plane were outfitted with special transmitters or transponders, if I were in Kansas, how would I see that DC-9’s compressor stall and flames shooting out an engine, or that hot brake on that B727, or that snowy owl hanging out to the left of the runway, or that flock of seagulls flying down the final, or the dog, deer or coyote crossing the runway in front of a departiing aircraft…and so on. And you know, I’ve seen nothing in the years since we had that conversation that proves Billy Bob wrong and way too much that proves he was right on with his predictions.

Billy Bob had his faults, like everyone else, but he was my friend. He worked hard and he played even harder. I sometimes wonder if he knew subconsciously he wasn’t going to live a long life and wanted to pack in his living early. Billy Bob, I really miss you, man.

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I’m not sure where all the angst was coming from yesterday about President Obama’s Speech to students.  Have we sunk so low as a nation that the thought of a Presidential address to our children is cause for banning said address?  Are we so narrow-minded that there was a reason to be concerned to the point of not allowing our children to hear our elected leader?

Here’s the thing.  I did not like our previous POTUS.  I wasn’t enamored of the man, and, most certainly, I disliked his politics.  But had he chosen to make a national address to our children, I still wouldn’t have thought it reasonable for school systems to decide not to broadcast his speech during school.  I’d listen to it, watch it myself and just discuss it with my children later.  But as much as I didn’t like the previous President, I still would not have had the expectation that he would, in an address specifically for children, say or do anything overtly harmful.

President Obama obviously has some nerve.  I mean, how dare he suggest to our children that they hold some responsibility for their attitudes and effort in school?  How dare he suggest that they are the future of this country and that a good education will aid them?  How dare he infer that they find the things that they are good at?  Or that failing is not an excuse to quit?  Or to work hard, keep trying and ask for help if they need it?  How dare he tell them that their government, parents and teachers consider the education of our children important?  What horrible, terrible tenets to teach our youth.

I don’t know if it was prejudice of the man, his race or his politics that caused the outcry in some areas, but it certainly was prejudice rearing its ugly head.  Random House Dictionary’s first listed definition of the word is:  an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.  Sounds about right to me.

John and I discussed the issue last night at dinner.  He made the observation that he wasn’t sure if some of the parents weren’t more concerned that they hadn’t taught their children well enough to be free and critical thinkers to view the President’s speech in the “right” way…or maybe that they had taught them well enough.

Our twins are preschool age and we watched the address on YouTube last night.  I doubt they got a lot from it, due to their age, but we used it as a teaching opportunity…try your best, don’t give up, and you can do or be anything.  As a parent, I feel the more adults that can reinforce those concepts to my children the better.

Oh, one more thought, for those parents of older kids that felt it prudent for their children’s school system to not show the President’s address and were successful in obtaining that goal, all you did was make it “forbidden” and more of a temptation for them to watch it on the sly.  I can only imagine how disappointed they will be to find that President Obama says many of the same things you’ve hopefully said to them over the years.

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Yes, it’s been awhile since I’ve written anything and if you’re really interested I could go on and on about a couple months of family illnesses, but at this point, it would just feel like whining.  So instead I’ll talk about something else.

As a federal employee in a safety-related profession, privatization is usually something on my mind…as something to guard against.  Despite what “Corporate America” might have people think, I believe, on average, federal employees give good value for the taxpayer money.  Too many times, nations have privatized safety-related professions and seen a degraded level of safety and service and end up paying more for less.  Contracting out Flight Service here in the United States has proven to be more costly, in terms of money, and definitely in terms of safety and service…not only to pilots, but also to air traffic controllers.

Last month, I was able to read a book called The Unincorporated Man written by Dani & Eytan Kollin, their first, and hopefully, not their last offering.  The premise is that, in the future, every individual is incorporated at birth, with the government holding 5% of the stock, parents 20%, and corporations and individuals owning the rest.  Your “stockholders” can make you take certain jobs to get a decent return on their money, and it’s a shock for the protagonist (a billionaire who underwent a cryogenic procedure 300 years prior) to find that society has changed so much that the idea of being unincorporated, as he is, is anathema to many.  If someone wants to disappear, “stockholders” can track you down.

Today I found out about the contest at Wired magazine to locate writer Evan Ratliff (sidenote: Ratliff was my great-grandmother’s maiden name; I wonder if he’s distantly related).  It made me think again about The Unincorporated Man, how much of our living is able to be tracked digitally and how such a contest could not take place in the imagined (but not out of the realm of possibility) future of that book.

I could wax poetic about it all, but it sure seems to me that if we go overboard on the whole “privatization” mindset, it’s really not too far a jump to privatize or incorporate individuals.  And the sad part is, I could see people voluntarily giving up their personal liberties to go that route.  Read the book.

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Sorry I haven’t been able to post anything new lately.  Life’s been crazy here.

Anyway, I attended NATCA in Washington (NiW) last month.  It was the first one I’ve attended in all these years.  I was glad I went.  I was a little disappointed at some of the internal politicking that was taking place during business hours, but overall it was a great event.  I’d highly recommend it to other NATCA brothers and sisters.

Pics can be found here.

P.S.  If you get a chance to eat at the District Chophouse or Bobby Van’s, do so.  Great food at both places!

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Finally got our updated genealogical database uploaded and online.  I’ll try to get the gedcom on Rootsweb tonight or tomorrow.

Got some cool maps now.  Maybe I’ll play with the calendar feature on my Second Site software next.

Let me know what you think.

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Last week, I was investigating booster seats for the kids and I really wanted something with a 5-point harness that they could use as long as possible.  If you care to know, I think we’re going to upgrade from the Britax Marathon and go with the Britax Frontier.  In the middle of it all, I was listening to the radio and the lyrics of Different World by Bucky Covington and it reinforced to me how much has changed since I was a girl.

We were born to mothers who smoked and drank
Our cribs were covered in lead-based paint
No childproof lids
No seatbelts in cars
Rode bikes with no helmets
And still here we are
Still here we are

We got daddy’s belt when we misbehaved
Had three TV channels you got up to change
No video games and no satellite
All we had were friends and they were outside
Playing outside

It was a different life
When we were boys and girls
Not just a different time
It was a different world

School always started the same everyday
The pledge of allegiance, then someone would pray
Not every kid made the team when they tried
We got disappointed but that was alright
We turned out alright

It was a different life
When we were boys and girls
Not just a different time
It was a different world

No bottled water
We’d drink from a garden hose
And every Sunday,
All the stores were closed.

It was a different life
When we were boys and girls
Not just a different time
It was a different world

It was a different life
When we were boys and girls
Not just a different time
It was a different world

It was a different world

I guess it hit home a little harder since I’ve been hearing my 4-year olds say things like “I’m going to check my email” as they head for the desktop to surf their favorite websites (Playhouse Disney, PBS Kids, YouTube and Starfall).  And watching them spell words like “blog” and “computer”.  Or fighting for the stupid remote control for the television or DVD player and decide whether they want to watch Little Einsteins or Phineas and Ferb.  They flip-flop between Winnie the Pooh and Hannah Montana.  I sometimes get the impression that they’re toddlers on the brink of adulthood.

I hope that John and I can balance giving them what they’ll need as adults to function in the future with their need to just be kids now.  But I admit that I worry sometimes if, despite our best efforts, the digital age we live in is going to rob them of some of the innocence that every child deserves to have.  And then I worry that I’m worrying too much.

But I think that while the details of what concerns us may be different now than in the past, parenthood itself really hasn’t changed all that much at its most primitive level.  In the meantime, I’ve got a little girl who just brought her blankie and stuffed bear to me wanting to cuddle and a little boy wanting kisses and hugs.  It’s time to remember to enjoy it.  As Darius Rucker sings – It Won’t Be Like This For Long.

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I had a few moments to search online for the costs of raising a child, as the subject has been on our minds quite a bit lately. There are a bunch of different calculators/charts online. Check out here, here, here, here, here, here or here. LOL! Anyway, the figures come up anywhere from about $150,000 to about $600,000 per child.

With the twins being a bit advanced academically for their age, we’ve been considering an excellent private school…that we so totally cannot afford. Our son B is correctly spelling 5th-7th grade words – on the computer and writing them. Don’t believe me, look at this video from a year ago when he was 3. His sister A is reading as well, and loves to take things apart and “fix” them. They prefer to watch movies with subtitles and closed captioning on TV shows and recently decided that they need to watch Tinkerbell in Spanish…with Spanish subtitles. Even if John and I had the desire to homeschool, the truth is I’m not sure we could meet all their needs in that area.

Back to costs, I’d go with the higher end figures myself. Nowhere in the calculators (unless, of course, it’s under miscellaneous expenses which seem far too low) do I see the costs you don’t think of before you have children. Cribs, check. Diapers, check. Car seats, check.  Child care, check. Clothes, check. Food, check. Toys, check. Books, check. But I didn’t see the following:

Cases of clear packing tape – for taping up the ripped books, pages and anything else that you need to try to fix for them so they’ll just stop crying.

Locking hook and eye fasteners – for the oven door you can’t afford to replace after the children decided to open and use it to climb up on the kitchen counter, the doors to the attic crawlspaces, outside doors, computer desk drawers, etc.

Light bulbs – since they need to turn the lights on and off…over and over again.

Furniture – the couch, beds and anything else they can “bounce” on. That doesn’t even take into account the Scotchgard necessary to keep it clean or the slipcovers to cover the holes in the fabric because they’ve decided to poke sharp things into it until you can afford to replace the abused furniture.

Small appliances – for when they drop them and break the handles off the crockpots or when they try to take the rice cooker apart and lose the rubber thingy or bent the metal bowls to the mixer out of shape drumming on them.

Belts and repairman costs – to replace the belt(s) in the washer and/or dryer because you’ve overloaded it too many times trying to keep up with the dirty clothes and don’t have a lot of time to do so.

Heating vent covers – to replace the ones they figured out how to remove and then bent out of shape. Really don’t want to lose a pet down the ductwork.

Carpet cleaning supplies – to steam clean those carpets with a greater frequency to get out the juice, ground-in cereal bars, Playdoh, etc.

Bottles of shampoo/bubbles/juice or any other liquid – to replace the brand new ones you just bought that they decided to pour out…or spill.

Bandaids – need a box for most every room to hurriedly cover those barely discernable boo-boos that the kids insist require more attention than a kiss.

Emergency room visits – less for the kids, but more for the parents who’ve twisted/broken ankles, arms, wrists, or whatever from tripping over those toys.

Replacement DVDs/videotapes/CDs – because they’ve used them as Frisbees and scratched them or in the case of the videotapes, they’ve discovered that the insides make a real cool noisemaking boa.

Paper and ink for the printer – for when the kids discover the print button on the computer…and use it repeatedly.

Goo Gone – to remove those stickers from the hardwood floors, tables, any anything else the kids have decided to decorate.

Picture frame glass – to replace the broken glass when the kids bounce off the walls and the frames fall to the floor.

Storage bins – to pack away everything of sentimental value that you own so that it doesn’t go the way of those picture frames.

Computer repair/maintenance contract – for when they spill juice on the keyboard…or drop the laptop.

Gallons of ketchup – no explanation necessary.

Transportation costs – for those extra trips you need to make for any/all of the above.

And those are the just the unmentioned costs that immediately come to my mind. I know there are more.

Enjoy the Superbowl!

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I was at work today while our 44th president was inaugurated.  A coworker and I made a deal about how to arrange our breaks; he’d get to watch the swearing in and I’d get to watch our new President’s first speech.  I think I got the better end of that deal.

I heard President Obama make a speech I was proud to hear our nation’s leader make.  It struck me as honest.  I can’t always say that about our politicians.  What I heard is our President expecting us to own our contributions to this country and its change.  Don’t expect it all to be done for you; pitch in and help.  Don’t just complain, don’t give up; come up with solutions, and help implement them.  Claim it, work for it, be proud of it, be cognizant of what you’ll pass on to your grandchildren.

My suggestion is to start here.  Sign up for the updates, be informed, offer opinions.

But it’s funny the things that catch your eye and make an impression.  Two things I’ll remember most from today’s speeches and immediately afterward have absolutely nothing to do with the dichotomy of the fervor and solemnity of the celebrations, the hope for our country’s future, or even the history in the making with our first black president taking office.

The first was seeing Vice President Joe Biden taking the time to snap a photo from his vantage point for Malia Obama with her camera and handing it back to her with a real – not a “I’m just being polite” – smile.

The second was observing Michelle Obama being a mom, keeping an eye on Malia and Sasha, ensuring they behaved as well as you can expect children their age to behave in public.  Seeing her send the reassuring and encouraging smiles to them touched my mom’s heart.  Knowing that no matter how proud she is of her husband, some of her attention was rightfully (and inevitably) diverted to their kids.

My personal opinion is that our First Lady has the tougher job right now.  She needs to aid her children and husband to transition to their new roles without any of them losing sight of their family and their family values.  She needs to be the rock and earth that grounds them all and keeps them focused on the most important thing in their lives – their family.  Because without that personal nexus, President Obama will not be the best POTUS that he can be during these trying times.

In other words, she needs to continue doing what every other wife and/or mother does…only on a grander, more public scale, but with less recognition for her contribution than most. Keep them human and real, Michelle.  I wish you the best of luck.

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Open Season for changing health benefits for federal employees was originally slated to end on December 8, 2008, but has since been extended through January, 2009 based on a review of one carrier’s non-emergency surgery coverage.  But since I was unhappy with the rising costs of health care and decreasing coverage, I investigated a change and actually made one before the original end date.  Doesn’t seem to matter much, since according to the health insurance company, my family no longer has health insurance coverage.

Despite my receiving a confirmation of the change I made, it seems my employer neglected to send my enrollment information to the insurance carrier for the new plan.  What makes this even more irritating, is that it is the SAME insurance carrier, just a different plan.  I only found out about it when I went to pick up John’s monthly prescription.  So if it doesn’t get fixed by tomorrow (he runs out of his medication tonight), I’ll have to pay $110 out of pocket for a generic prescription.

But that really isn’t the conundrum mentioned in the title.  You see, when I was looking at plans, I considered a number of factors.  First, my health insurance premiums have close to doubled in the past 4 years, but my coverage has decreased.  Our doctors’ visits and prescription co-pays have increased over the past few years as well.  Take a look at my old Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plan:

2005 bi-weekly premium: $136.11 (x 26 pay periods=$3,538.86 annually).

2006 bi-weekly premium:$166.55   (x 26 pay periods=$4330.30 annually).

    A premium increase of $30.44 per pay period, but I received a base and locality pay increase of approximately $118 per pay period.

2007 bi-weekly premium: $189.32  (x 27 pay periods=$5111.64 annually).

    A premium increase of $22.77 per pay period, but the only pay increase I received was a gross of $26 per pay period in locality pay.

2008 bi-weekly premium: $236.57  (x 26 pay periods=$6150.82 annually).

    A premium increase of $47.25 per pay period, but the only pay increase I received was a gross of $19 per pay period in locality pay.

2009 bi-weekly premium: $261.34 (x 26 pay periods=$6794.84 annually).

    An increase of $24.77 per pay period.  I haven’t received word yet on what my locality pay increase will actually amount to.

The 2009 HMO plan also now comes with a deductible of $200/person, $400/family (an increase of another $15.38 per pay period), only 90% coverage of hospital admissions, including room charges and 90% coverage of doctor outpatient surgeries.  An HMO plan with a deductible?

So if I had chosen to stay with the HMO, my health insurance premiums (and deductible) would have increased $3655.98 annually over 2005, and my coverage would have significantly decreased.  Obviously, I went looking into other plans.

Now, isn’t this interesting.  Same insurance carrier with a new High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP).  2009 cost is $106.82 per pay period.  That’s $2777.32 annually…less than my premiums in 2005.  Of course it has a high deductible (hence the name).  Hmmm, $1250/person, $2500/family.  Once the deductible is met, 100% coverage for all those things that the HMO plan will only pay 90%.  Prescriptions go up for brand-name pharmaceuticals from $25 to $35 (and an increase for mail order prescriptions).

Now you get a Health Savings Account with the HDHP plan.  Of which $1250.04 of the premiums I pay go into.  Which, in effect, means that the family deductible has come down to $1250.  $2800 plus $1250 equates to $4050 annually – less than my premium costs in 2006. I’ll have to put money into the account to preplan for the deductibles, but I can contribute the difference in my 2008 premiums and the new premiums and still come out ahead in the short and long term over last year.

What’s the catch?  Ahh, there it is – preventive care office visits aren’t subject to the deductible, but if you are sick and head off to see the doctor, the deductible applies.  The point is to keep subscribers from going to the doctor because we’ll have to pay out of pocket up front.  As I’m in a profession that I need to address potential health issues earlier rather than later and can’t take over the counter meds for colds and the like, this can create a problem.  As you can see, I haven’t received a base pay increase since 2006.

So, can anyone give me a reasonable explanation why, if you’re willing to pay the extra money for an HMO, you get less hospitalization coverage than if you pay for a HDHP plan?  I would hope we wouldn’t need it, but with twins and both John and I getting older, I’m not willing to take the risk of getting hit with a huge hospitalization bill.

I just don’t understand.

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