Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Too Much Time on My Hands?

With my son off to camp for four weeks (!!) I decided to have little fun and start an interactive blog. Because I don't have enough to do, keeping up these three.

Check out The Hand-Me-Down Shrink.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

How Not to Protect Your Family

As many of you already know, I was divorced from Tony when he passed away. However, we had reestablished a friendship and I was really his primary caretaker for the months preceding his death and was at his deathbed when he passed.

While we were married, smoking (his) was a huge issue. He'd spend hundreds of dollars on patches only to start smoking again within weeks. Of course, this was all done in "secret". But the problem is, when you're a person who is incapable of closing a cabinet door after you've retrieved something, it's pretty obvious where your "hiding places" are. Net net, I finally told him that if he was going to continue to smoke, he had to take out a decent life insurance policy to protect us after the fact.

He did this. He took out a $300K policy and paid the hefty smoker-premiums.

When we got divorced, our agreement stated that we each had to hold a $250K policy with the other person as beneficiary, in trust for Lucas. This was to ensure that in the event of one's death, the other parent could support Lucas in his minority.

During the week that Tony was dying, he told me that he had kept up the premiums on the original policy and that all would be ok, financially, for me and Lucas.

Lo and behold.... after he passed, I found out that his brother-in-law, an attorney, had gotten Tony to fill out a change of beneficiary form on the $300K policy. He made LUCAS the beneficiary on $250K, and his wife (Tony's sister who is a millionaire twice over) the recipient of the remaining $50K. (These are the people who have not been in touch with my son, along with Tony's other five siblings, since 2003.)

If you are a parent and don't know why this is a problem, read carefully.

If a child is the beneficiary, the money cannot be touched. Not only can't it be touched, it can't be invested. I had to go to the Surrogate Court, prove that I was Lucas' mom, and then deposit the money in a joint savings account with the court. It has, over the past 3 years, been earning about 1/2% interest.

Shortly after I discovered this, I hired an attorney to see if we could rectify the problem. It took over two years for a court clerk to determine that, in her words, I make enough money to support Lucas and shouldn't need to touch his. The judge signed off on this, had me deduct $3000 from the money to pay the attorney, and go on my merry way.

In the meantime, I've been shouldering massive therapy bills for him, as well as thousands of dollars in co-pays on his medication and other special needs expenses.

This past November I found an attorney who specializes in special needs families and also has some contacts at the Surrogate Court. She also found a prior case that mirrors our situation exactly (without the intervention of the brother-in-law, though). Right now, we are sitting on pins and needles (and two mortgages, two loans against my 401K, etc.) to await the court's decision.

All I really want to do is to invest the money and use the interest to help support Lucas. I'd rather not touch the principal and know that he has some money already put aside for college. I'm not looking to buy myself two BMWs, a mansion on the North Shore of Long Island, and a summer house in the Hamptons. Both of which Tony's sister and BIL already have.

So...the moral of the story, if you've gotten this far, is this:
Do not, under any circumstances, make a minor the beneficiary on a life insurance policy unless you are deliberately trying to screw him. Tony would be very upset if he knew what was happening now. He was clueless about this sort of thing and relied on his nasty BIL to help him do the right thing. In the end, it's Lucas who gets short-changed.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Very Poor Insurance!

Seems like a good idea, right? Medical insurance for your pet. I've been paying premiums to VPI for the past three years, mostly out of fear that my dog will get some horrible illness or injury and I won't have the cash to lay out to care for him.

However, this insurance has turned out to be more trouble than it's worth. Kelso injured his back last November, to the tune of $600, and I still haven't been able to get the claim paid. They tell me that the records they received from my vet were incomplete, so the vet has sent the paperwork no fewer than three times. Each time, we think we're good, and then 60 days later I get a letter stating that the "requested records were not received."

In the meantime, Kelso got sick in February and I submitted a claim for almost $900 of which they paid a whopping $300. (Why, might you ask, were they able to process that claim without said "records"? Beats me.)

Right now, as I type, I am listening to the dulcet tones of the VPI "hold" music. Today they are telling me that the missing records are from 2002. The only problem there is that I didn't GET Kelso until February of 2003.

ARGH. Every year I'm tempted to drop the stupid policy, but I'm sure that when I do something terrible will happen! Insurance is like the Catholic Church: makes its money through fear and guilt.

**See comments box for a direct response from VPI. They either search the web for blog posts about pet insurance, or this is a very weird coincidence.**

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day

My dad, my daughter and 1991. He didn't get to know my son, because he died of lung cancer when Lucas was only 8 months old.

My dad, circa 1959. Very Tony Soprano.

Me and my dad, before I got big enough to block the TV.

Three sweet pictures of my son and his dad, before he got sick. Lung cancer got him as well, when Lucas was only 8 years old.

Know how lucky you are if you can wish yours a Happy Father's Day, in person.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Hits and Mrs.

In moving from NYC to the suburbs 12 years ago, one of the biggest adjustments for me was, and still is, being called "Mrs. ... " by other adults. This is primarily the case with teachers, school office workers and other parents.

First of all, I'm not a Mrs. Anything. Even when I was married, I wasn't Mrs. Anything. I kept my maiden name through three husbands, and while I don't expect people to automatically know that, I think that when I refer to myself either by my first name or by my first and last name, people might try to pay attention. Instead, they keep calling me "Mrs. My Kid's Last Name". Most of these people know that I'm not married, so why not say "Ms. My Kid's Last Name" if they don't know mine? If you ask me, Ms. is one of the best new "words" of the 20th century. It takes the guesswork out of addressing women, and it doesn't make incorrect assumptions about their marital status.

Sure, the name game is a little confusing at our house. My last name is different from both of my children's, and theirs are different from each other's. For some reason, though, people in NYC had no problem with this concept. And when you referred to yourself by your first name, people used it.

I don't even want my kids' friends calling me Mrs. or Ms. anything. And please don't call me Ma'am!!! I realize that some people instill this as a form of "respecting your elders" in their children. On the other hand, my children have been taught to ask adults what they'd like to be called, and respect that.

Is this just a practice in snooty Connecticut or Westchester County? Honestly, I thought "Mrs." was dead. At least I hoped it was.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Father-less Day

CoffeeBoys, originally uploaded by panthergirl.

In the past, I have posted about my own issues with Mother's Day (as it relates to my mother, not to my children). This week, I have to deal with the barrage of Father's Day reminders that are hitting us from every direction.

I can handle my own lack of a father-unit, but it breaks my heart to see my son try and deflect the non-stop overload of commercials, junk mail flyers and in-store posters (especially in the golf places) telling him not to forget Dad this coming Sunday.

For those who don't know, his dad passed away from lung cancer three years ago, at age 46, when Lucas was just 8 years old. I wrote about him here.

Thankfully, he's old enough now (12) that they don't make gifts at school (remember when ashtrays were the Father's Day craft of choice?)

We'll keep busy on Sunday, and maybe take a ride past his dad's last apartment building and wave, something we do periodically anyway.

Thankfully I have hundreds of photographs of Tony with Lucas, and lots of video as well. I've made some stills from those, and this is a favorite of mine... Dad showing 2 year-old Luke the Christmas tree.
(oh, and of course he's not really drinking coffee in the photo above. Silly.)


Monday, June 11, 2007

The Sopranos' Swan Song

In the moment, it was a "WTF???" The cut-to-black was so "cut" and not "fade", that I (and everyone else I know) was cursing the cable company, the DVR, and HBO... not sure which one had fucked up. It wasn't until the credits began to roll that I realized I had been whacked by David Chase.

I was pissed off. I had my own version of what was going to become of Tony Soprano: He was going to "flip", feed his Fed friend everything he ever wanted, and ride off into the Witness Protection Program with his dysfunctional nuclear family, leaving his other family to rot in the can.

But no.... I didn't get my ending, nor did anyone who thought Tony was going to get popped in the end get theirs. Those who wanted the missing Russian to return as Tony's assassin were sorely disappointed as well.

In retrospect, however, I see Chase's brilliance. We were left wondering if there would be a Corleone move when the shifty guy came out of the men's room. Or, if we were simply getting a closeup view of what it must be like when you see every stranger as a potential threat, even when you're enjoying a couple of onion rings with the wife and kids. And Meadow's ineptitude at parallel parking could only mean that she would be either spared or killed as a result. But noooooooo...!

To his credit, David Chase gave us the HBO equivalent of a "make your own adventure" book. Sure, we know that part of his cleverness has to do with leaving the door open (and enough live characters) for a movie. Why else is Silvio still alive?

Still, although the general consensus was irritation, I believe this episode will go down in TV history as one of the most memorable and talked about series finales ever. And who knows... maybe when the DVD comes out there will be some alternate endings, giving all of us a peek at what our fantasy finale would have looked like. Now THAT would be fun.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Heal the Hounds!

Greyhound Rescue and Rehab needs your help!! Our rescue group has just taken in three greyhounds with broken legs and the medical fund is in desperate need of replenishment.

If you are at all inclined to help, click here. I

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Kids These Days!!

The next time you're inclined to think that today's young adults are a bunch of self-absorbed snots with entitlement issues, think again. Check out the blog of my dear friend Joy's daughter Tish.

Tish just finished her first year at MIT (she had to make the grueling decision between Stanford and MIT last year, after getting into every other school she applied to as well. Can you say "brilliant"?). Rather than spend the summer playing tennis or lazing on a beach, Tish and another student got a grant to go to Tanzania and build wheelchairs that they designed specifically for the terrain.

Here is an excerpt from her blog bio:

"My name is Tish and I just finished my first year of college at MIT. This summer I'll be spending two months living in Tanzania, working at a wheelchair workshop called Mobility Care. Having spent the past semester working a design for a folding three wheeled wheelchair, it's time to start sharing ideas! Major thank you to the Public Serivce Center and Amos Winter for making this all possible!!"

She just arrived in Arusha, Tanzania this past week and will be chronicling her experiences there. If you can't hear how excited she is, just count the exclamation points. ;)

NOW... what can you do to help? How about leaving Tish an encouraging comment and wish her luck in her endeavor (and her search for toilet paper!)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

They Drive, Me Crazy

The fact that I manage to drive to and from work every day and make it home alive is nearly a miracle. Aside from the aforementioned speeder/tailgaters on the Merritt Parkway, a winding narrow road punctuated every few miles with bouquets of flowers and crosses to mark the death places of the unlucky, there are people driving with newspapers draped over the steering wheel, putting on makeup, talking on the phone while emoting with the other hand, drifting into the breakdown lane as the conversation gets more interesting, and digging under their seats for a pen. They reach into the back seat to stick a pacifier in a baby's mouth, rifle through their glove compartment and change their pants, all while driving 75 miles per hour. And the new thing, texting while driving? Are you kidding me? I can barely text while NOT driving.

And, some of them drive with their knees while talking with both hands (you know who you are).

Maybe if they'd been in as many car accidents as I have, they'd be a little more careful. There's nothing like doing airtime after hitting a pole at 70mph to bring a little caution into your life.

No wonder I felt safer when I lived in the city.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Panthergirl's DVD Pick of the Week

The less you know about The Painted Veil before you see it, the better. All I will tell you is that it is a beautiful and riveting story, with incredible cinematography and acting and a haunting score (which won a Golden Globe). I can't believe the film didn't get a wider release, but if you didn't see it in the teeny art theater in your area, get thee to Netflix immediately.

Edward Norton and Naomi Watts produced as well as star in this film, which gets a 10 out of 10 on my scale. (And boys, this is not a chick flick.)

Friday, June 01, 2007

TB or Not TB...

Andrew Speaker, the 31-year-old man with TB who threw caution (and other passengers) to the wind when he boarded a plane with a personal "emergency" (read: wedding. Frankly, I think his new bride is the one with the personal emergency. Read: annulment) is the new poster boy for selfishess. Should he be charged with a crime the same way that a person who has AIDS and willfully infects others would be? Ho yeah.

Paraphrasing a soundbite from The Today Show: "Andrew Speaker is concerned about the international scare he caused."

HUH??? Andrew's soundbite from a week ago would have sounded more like "Fuck it!"

In the latest twist to this story, we discover that his father-in-law is a TB specialist for the CDC. Of course, dad-in-law says that this is a sheer coincidence and Speaker didn't get the disease from him, or from the CDC labs. Hm. As we say here in the Skeptic's Corner, "Coincidence? I don't think so."

And lest we forget, the border guard in Canada determined that Speaker "didn't look sick" and let him continue on his journey, spreading joy and germs to all. Any chance that guy was working at Logan Airport on 9/11/01?

Andrew Speaker and his unstoppable nuptial drive aside, what this story should teach us most is how patently unprepared we are for a serious pandemic of any kind. This is one person and there are very few hospitals who would be capable of quarantining him. Multiply him by a thousand, or even ten, and we're screwed.

Ironically, Speaker is a personal injury lawyer. Maybe anyone who becomes infected as a result of his irresponsible behavior can hire him to sue himself.