Friday, October 28, 2005

Exhausted in Mitchell, South Dakota

So, I haven't posted in a week, but I have a good excuse. By the end of the weekend, everything was mostly packed up. The movers came Tuesday afternoon and cleared out all our stuff. We kept the laptops, of course, but I only spent about 10 minutes in the house Tuesday night, loading the car-items up before driving to my parents' house so that we could stay in some place with a bed (not cots on the floor!)

Wednesday I was busy at work wrapping things up and making sure my laptop is all set up for effective telecommuting.

Thursday morning we closed. It took a long time because the title company had to wait on some other form the buyers needed to sign. We were all done except that, and had to sit around for about half an hour chatting until things finished up and I got the big check in my hands.

Then we opened a new bank account at a bank that has branches in Montana, ran a couple other errands, and spent the rest of the day vegging out at my parents house. The cat was somewhat traumatized by spending the day in a strange place -- my parents' sunroom, but she did seem to relax by evening.

This morning, Friday, we were up by five A.M. and on the road by 6:16 (yes, I noticed the exact time, but forgot to set the trip odometer). We gave the cat a tranquilizer. She fretted in her crate for a bit, then relaxed and dozed the rest of the way. The dogs all behaved well, but they have always been good travelers.

It is a very long drive from Batavia, IL to Mitchell, SD. And now I am exhausted. I have to say, though, this is the first time I've been in a hotel that has a notice informing you that if you leave your gun in the room out of a case, the housekeeping staff will not clean the area around it. And leave your dog in its crate, or the staff won't enter the room at all!

It appears to be pheasant season here. Several guests arriving at the same time as us did indeed have gun cases with them. I remember driving to Montana last November and being taken aback by the site of dead deer and elk in the backs of trucks on the road. I suppose this is something I will just get used to...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Home Stretch Weekend

So we're getting down to the homestretch here on the packing and cleaning. The movers come Tuesday to haul our stuff off to Montana. The other day, I finally finished transferring really old files from my old Macintosh to my current computer. Afterward, I discovered how easy it is to disassemble a Macintosh LC III:
Inside of an Old Mac LC III

Today is our last trash day while still owning this house, so we wanted to get as much garbage out as possible. Laura overdid it yesterday while I was at work, hauling so much stuff that she is very sore today. I helped when I got home. We have to put a garbage sticker on each item. We went through about 25 stickers:
Last Trash Day Before We Move

The dining table alone took quite a few -- six chairs, the two base parts, and the top. We had intended to donate it, but no one wanted it because the top needs refinishing.

Anyway, I took a vacation day since we're down to the homestretch...although everywhere I look I see so much stuff to be packed! How did we end up with all this stuff??

Saturday, October 15, 2005

What Do You Need?

I don't usually do these things, but this was pretty funny. From David at Better Living Thru Blogging, type your name and "needs" into google and see what comes up.

So, here's what I got:

1. Sara needs...a loving, playful home (hmm, playful?)

2. Sara needs to discover the experts in the area. (Experts in what? In what area? Why?)

3. Sara (that's rather vague)

4. Sara needs...your vote (I cannot imagine even wanting to run for office)

5. Sara needs to hand him one of those weapons (I don't have any weapons, unless you count pocket knives)

6. Sara needs...something more than the well-established love of her companion (I don't think Laura would like this one)

7. Sara needs...a caesarean section (I'm wondering what they would find in there. Does someone know something I don't?)

8. Sara needs...further surgery (More surgery? After the caesarean? OK, I am staying away from people with knives for a while!!)

9. Sara needs to quit whinin (I'll quit "whinin" when you learn how to spell!)

10. Sara needs to shut the hell up (Um, no. Sorry. I will NOT shut the hell up)

I did 10, but there were a few more down the list that I found funny:

Sara needs...insoles (well, my feet do tend to hurt a lot. I hate buying shoes)

Sara needs...sleep (always!)

And let's end with the most bizarre:
Sara mate with a comparable alien, not human, to keep her new perfect species alive (er, what?)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Taxes, Domestic Partners, Marriage

Conservatives like to claim to be all in favor of tax breaks, except of course when those breaks might benefit gay couples. Likewise, they are all about getting government's nose out of private business, except for when private business wants to actually help out gay couples.

See, I'm currently in the process of enrolling in my medical benefits for next year, which is a great way to get a "nice" reminder that, while domestic partner benefits may be a lot better than nothing, they are not anywhere close to "marriage." I should probably point out that my company was acquired last year, so this is the first time I'm enrolling in the new company's plan.**

So, I go to add Laura as a dependent and I get a reminder that I need to provide additional documentation on our relationship. Funny, I strongly suspect that the married folks don't need to fax copies of their marriage certificate to someone two states away, but OK, whatever. We'll fill out the form and track down a notary public.

Then there is the tax issue. Most people don't think about the portion of their health benefits that the employer pays--they only worry about the amount taken out of each check. In our case, we need to worry about both.

First, the payroll deductions that cover MY part of the benefits are all nicely pre-tax, thus lowering my overall tax burden a smidge. The deductions for Laura's part, however, are not. They will be deducted post-tax. OK, it isn't a huge amount and it isn't as though it would put me in a different tax bracket, but still, it is a difference. I suspect this difference would become even greater if we were to throw a kid or two into the mix.

Then there is the matter of the premium that the company pays for our benefits. You know, the part that you never see, that you don't even think about. Can you even name the amount your company spends on your health benefits each paycheck? Anyway, for my part of that premium, all is fine and I can pretend it isn't there. But the amount my employer pays for Laura's benefits will be conveniently tacked on to my taxable income and reported to the IRS, so I get to pay taxes on it. How exciting. At the present moment, I have no clue how much this will amount to, but given the rising cost of healthcare I keep hearing about, I suspect it won't be a tiny amount. If my employer's share of the premium is equal to my share, it will be at least $1,500 for the year. I strongly suspect that my employer and I are not splitting the cost of the benefits 50/50, so it will probably be more than that.

And all the "small government conservatives" out there are perfectly happy with this arrangement. More taxes! From certain people, anyway.

Oh, and the part about the government's nose in private business? While poking around to figure out exactly what the DP benefit requirements are, I stumbled across a page indicating that DP benefits were not available in certain states due to state law. That is, the same insurance company that is perfectly happy to cover domestic partners in Illinois is forbidden by state law from providing those benefits to employees in, say, Virginia. There were four or five states on the list -- fortunately not including Montana where we will be living in less than a month. It did look like some of the plans could still be used in those states, but not others.

What do you want to bet that the people behind those particular state laws call themselves "small government conservatives" (also sometimes known as "republicans") when they're not busy passing legislation forbidding insurance companies from selling insurance to certain types of people?

**I should also point out that my complaint here is NOT with my company. I do appreciate the DP coverage and I'm glad it is there. My employer isn't trying to be unfair, they are just constrained by this:
The Internal Revenue Service has ruled that domestic partners cannot be considered spouses for tax purposes. Thus, employers are obligated to report the fair market value of the domestic partner coverage as income to the employee. The employee must pay income tax on that money.
Although I did not know until visiting the above FAQ that legislation was introduced to fix this inequitable situation in 2003. It appears to have been referred to the Ways and Means committee. I've no idea if it ever has hope of seeing the light of day. I do find it interesting that the vast majority of co-sponsors are Democrats. I thought Democrats were the ones who want to make us all pay more in taxes. They must have been confused to co-sponsor a bill that would reduce my taxes!

I am also amused / horrified / saddened by this description of the bill from a so-called "pro-family" site (emphasis mine):
Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act of 2003 attacks the institutions of marriage and family. Current federal law excludes the benefits of employer-provided health coverage for spouses and children from being included as taxable income. However, if those benefits are offered to someone other than a spouse or child, they are taxable. H. 935 seeks to provide special rights for homosexuals by amending the Internal Revenue Code to treat homosexual partners as married spouses so that an employee whose company is providing health insurance for a homosexual domestic partner is no longer taxed on the value of that insurance.
Did they really write that with a straight (ahem) face? They describe (correctly) the inequity in taxation, then state that removing that inequity is giving homosexuals special rights? They have a funny definition for "special." And I don't even want to think about how self-centered you must be to see a change in taxes that doesn't affect you as an "attack" on yourself.

No, I won't provide a link. Just google the full name of the bill ("Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act") and I'm sure you can find it.

Sometimes I Wish I Could Write Poetry

But, since I can't, I'll just recommend this.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

We Must Be a Stop on the Migratory Superhighway

There was a bit of a ruckus in my neighborhood this morning.

This was the view out my back door. The roofs are my neighbors off our alley.
Birds Gathering

This was the view from my front porch of the houses across the way.
Birds Gathering II

The pictures don't do it justice. Stepping outside was to step into a cacophony of noise. The birds were gathered on every single roof I can see from my house.

Ten minutes later, they were all gone. Not a single one left in the neighborhood.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love autumn? So much better than the hot, humid summer.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Does it Look Like Someone Might be Moving?

A small sampling...

Boxes in family room...they are taking over...creating a wall between the living and family rooms
Boxes in Family Room

Breakables waiting to be packed
Breakables Waiting to be Packed

Boxes in the loft
Boxes in the Loft

Sunday, October 02, 2005


Didn’t I just comment about getting used to winter in Montana?

Laura was talking to her parents this morning, and apparently it snowed in Bozeman last night. As I’ve now confirmed at bozeman-mt, thanks to the tip from Big Sky Blog.

I’ve been told by Laura that snow this early in the season usually melts with a day, but still.

My various friends and co-workers here in Chicagoland think I’m crazy for looking forward to living in a place where it snows in October. Although I would have preferred to move during the summer, I’m still looking forward to this. I have a couple pairs of old cross-country skis in the garage that haven’t been used in years. Once we move, I plan to get new boots, replace the bindings, and find some good cross-country trails in / near Missoula. According to this, it shouldn’t be hard to find a few good spots.

I’ve never done downhill, and Laura doesn’t like it, so I don’t expect to do much downhill skiing. We’re thinking of checking out something like this, though.

This site seems to be a pretty good starting spot for finding Montana weather. The web cams of the various mountain passes are cool, too.

Some Good News from Connecticut

As reported by The Zero Boss. Civil unions were passed back in April and went into effect Oct. 1.

As the Zero Boss notes, the gripe that somehow gays are thwarting democracy won’t work this time, since this was passed by the elected legislature and was not compelled by the courts. Not that that will prevent the inevitable whining from the right, I’m sure.

Incidentally, I think creating something “separate” but “mostly equal” from marriage for gay couples is silly and somewhat wasteful – why not use the perfectly good laws we already have? But, from a purely practical standpoint, civil unions are better than nothing.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

OK, Another Test

Still trying to figure out if the Blogger for Word thing is worth bothering with. So, here is a post with a few pictures. A few weeks ago, we had another batch of bunnies show up in the yard (the link in this sentence should go to Laura’s blog).

Here’s Laura holding one of them:
Bunny in Hand

And here is another hunkering down in the long grass:
Bunny in the Grass

We’ll see if this post shows up with links and pictures intact.

UPDATE: the links work. The pictures don't. Blogger for Word converts the brackets around the html to something else so they show up in the published post as code rather than as pictures. I had to manually fix them up in a text editor again. Maybe it is just a matter of using a special style or something in Word, but for the moment, it doesn't look particularly useful.

Seems like a good idea, but…

So, Blogger now has this nifty “Blogger for Word” add-in thing. I installed it and tried to use it for my last post (the “Slacking Off”) one. It worked in the sense that it did publish my post. It completely failed in the sense that it mangled the HTML I had pasted in for the Flickr pictures. I finally copied the post in a text editor to repair it.

So, I’m trying it again with this post, with no pictures or links. Still, what is the point of using a tool that can’t handle pictures and links for blogging? Grrr.

Slacking Off?

Think maybe it is time that I mowed the lawn?
Time to Mow the Lawn?

I kept this up pretty well while the house was on the market, but now that we’ve got our offer and we’re just waiting to close, I’m finding it awful easy to slack off.

My gerbera plant has also seen better days:
Dead Gerbera

Dead Gerbera II