Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Don't Let the Door Hit You In The Butt On Your Way Out...

I loathe January. Not only are the Christmas holidays over and the weather cold, wet, and crappy, but it is somehow the month of Many Deadlines — from grant submissions to year-end tax forms. And let's not even discuss New Year's Resolutions...

This year was especially bad. I got W2s and payroll tax forms out early in the month, but I have a lot of 1099s to do for my clients, and somehow, there is always missing information. And that information is tricky to get, which makes sense of course, because if it was easy to get I would already have it. I pried my final EIN out of a vendor at 4pm today, postmark deadline day.

In between I ended up riding herd on a lot of grant deadlines, leadership at pretty much every client had some kind of health or family issue (ranging from mild to near-catastrophic) that held things up, and I have a press/ticket sales deadline that is technically tomorrow.

I have a 30-day all-you-can-use yoga pass that I am determined to use, and I need to start exercising more again.

And I won't even get into the major construction issues with the Ashland house right now...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Small Business Health Rant

The reason I know that most politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, don't REALLY care about small business is this, is political attitudes towards healthcare.

I've already gone on ad nauseum about insurance coverage, so I will spare you that, for now. Suffice it to say that, in a global marketplace, there is absolutely no way for American companies (who spend often 5, 10, even 25% of their budgets on health insurance for their employees) to compete with businesses in other countries who do not have that expense because they have single payer or government systems. I don't care how efficient your business model is, that's an almost insurmountable gap.

But my current issue is with HSAs. Since we are both self-employed, and Beatrix has yet to get a job, we have a personal health insurance plan through Medica. Premiums are $700/month currently, and we have a $6,000 deductible (that means we get to $14,400 before insurance starts kicking in, for those of you doing the math at home). We fund costs up to that deductible (and the 20% copay beyond it), through an HSA through Patrick's wonderful credit union, Spire.

So the idea behind an HSA is that it can be funded with pre-tax dollars. They can be funded by anyone; an employer can contribute to it if they have a high-deductible health plan, or individuals can contribute. They can be used to fund qualified medical expenses, ranging from copays to the amounts up to high deductibles such as above, to prescriptions — though starting last year, they disallowed over-the-counter medications like cough syrup. They also have a contribution cap, currently $6,250 for a family.

Now here's the issue. Like most consultants, we perform the service and then wait for the check to come in, often several months later. Thus, we treat our HSA almost like a bill — we fund it when we can, and then we often turn right around and pay the associated medical bill with it. But funding it is a real hassle. We have to go to the credit union, during regular business hours, go in, and physically make the deposit, so that the teller can code it correctly and, most importantly to the federal government, so we can sign to the effect that this is a legitimate contribution to the HSA. We can't deposit money via an ATM, or transfer funds into the account by phone or online, or even send in a deposit. Because the federal government is really afraid that, for this tax savings on $6,250 a year that is limited to specific medical expenses, we might fraudulently be putting money into the HSA and avoiding tax.

The result is, of course, that when we have a last-minute expense come up, like the glasses I wanted to purchase on sale yesterday or a doctor visit for a sick kid over the weekend, and there is not enough money in the account to pay for a variable and unexpected medical bill, we can't use the HSA to fund the allowed expense. (because let's face it, I would rather be working for a client and billing that hour in the middle of a business day than spending the time running to the bank).

(Meanwhile, this week, presidential candidate Mitt Romney admitted that his average tax rate was "closer to 15%," even on his book royalties and the $375,000 he made last year on speaking fees, much less his investment income.)

There's a lot of lip service being given to small businesses as the "backbone of the economy," and how entrepreneurship will be crucial to the country moving forward. But the cold hard truth is that there is very little attention paid to the issues that small businesses and sole proprietors face — healthcare and health insurance being top on that list. Until we take these things seriously, we're actively discouraging entrepreneurship in this country, and that simply MUST change.

ETA - Oh, and another barrier to work for many? Childcare. We just got approved for Ramsey County assistance and were put on the wait list. It's 3 years long at this point.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Learning to Love (More)



When Beatrix was born, I understood the falling in love instantly part. But I have to admit, while she is rounding the corner to four, that I fall in love with her a little more every day.

My little baby has turned into a sweet, somewhat bossy, very fun girl who is every bit her own person. Every morning she wakes up and comes down the hall to our bedroom, where she announces "The sun's up!" and climbs into bed to cuddle with us. She makes us play with princesses and the large houseplant and circus tents. She scarfs down moose pasta. She tells stories that go "Once upon a time there was a cat. The End." She uses big words, well. She enjoys school, and people, and parties, and movies. She's an animal's best friend. And she loves to snuggle.

Each day, I learn to love a little more.

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Are you blacking out tomorrow to protest SOPA? My voice is pretty small and won't likely be missed, but I'm thinking of stepping aside. Thus a semi-unformed post now, before I forget it by Thursday.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Body Work

Though I've been getting less cardio-vascular exercise than I should (and eating more cookies), I have been very pleaed with some of the exercise I have been getting.

In alter fall, I started going to pilates at The Sweatshop with my friend Katharine. I have taken pilates a lot of other places, but the place I keep on coming back to is The Sweatshop — somehow, the atmosphere and the levels there seem just right for me. I really enjoy it.

Today, Patrick and I took a Restorative Yoga class at Bliss Yoga. We had an about-to-expire pass from Living Social for 30 days of unlimited yoga, do decided to give it a try. It was lovely — a long (105 minute) class mostly focused on deepening poses and working your body. Not really athletic at all, but made me feel great; as much as I crave sleep lately, this was probably a more relaxing way to spend my time. I can hardly wait to go back for my next class!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Climbing Everest

When I get together with my closest friends, we usually eat at J's house — because it's convenient and extremely comfortable — and we often either grill or order out (see earlier not about convenience and comfort). Last week was a mix of the two, with grilling for the kids and Everest on Grand for the adults.

Convenience is not always a factor in ordering from Everest on Grand, and in the past we have faced some challenges in actually ordering and picking up the food. This time, we were also disappointed because they had dropped the memorable "hotmomo.com" web address and gone for the far more prosaic "everestongrand.com" So much for distinction.

J and E really love their jackfruit curry, though we all confessed to not even knowing what one looks like. I admit to liking it fine, but I am not overwhelmed with it. On the other hand, the kauli that I picked (potatoes, cauliflower, and peas) was also kind of meh, perhaps a little overly spiced. However, the palak paneer, which I often am not wild about, was amazing here — silky, light, and very well-flavored. And the "hot momo" — delicious, as always! I've never tried the yak ones, but the meat-eaters in our party gobbled them up, and I have more than my share of the veggie variety.

I'm still not overwhelmed by Everest on Grand, and I think it's a little pricey for what it is (which reminds me, E, I still owe you for our portion!). But it did rise a notch in my estimation in the last experience, and the company was wonderful, so I'm sure I'll be back in the take-out line soon!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bach-ing It

The Bachelor Farmer is the new "It" restaurant, making most people's top lists and often named "Restaurant of the Year" for 2011. But just why is it so good?

We went for my birthday just after it opened, and returned last week, bringing my Norwegian cousins to show them what Scandinavian cuisine is like here. This is why the place is great...

We arrived a little early, on purpose, because we wanted to get drinks downstairs at Marvel Bar. While the upstairs bar is just fine, it's nothing amazing, and the Marvel truly is. The minute you walk into the lovely atmosphere you feel taken care of, and our bar server did that and more — ensuring that the three men ordering old-fashioneds got different liquors in their drink so they could compare and contrast, checking in at the restaurant for us so they knew we were there, and generally taking care of us. Some of the best service I've had.

Upstairs, the service was similarly attentive without being rushed. Both Dayton brothers were in attendance, but they seem to have things down perfectly, and I have no doubt the service is as good at any time.

We started with some of the toasts — salmon, camembert, and a duck liver pate, all of which were lovely. I always forget how rich the camembert is, but somehow without being stifling.

Entrees were similarly lovely — a roast chicken, pork, sirloin, and I think mine was the winner — a lovely seafood stew with two kinds of fish, each perfectly cooked, and mussels.

There's a new dessert chef and desserts were small but perfect, our pear tarte tartin the perfect way to end the meal.

My cousins ordered the wine, and the 6 of us went through 2 bottles, so there was no way to try to use the famous wine chalkboard, but it stayed very active all night! Our party also took advantage of a few moments to peek into the men's store Askov Finlayson, with my husband returning the next day for a little sale shopping.

All in all, a perfect night. At about $65 a head including cocktails, not the cheapest meal in town by far, but one of the most memorable.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

#findtodd

It came up in a quick status blip in my MN Food Bloggers Group last night:

Kind and lovely Todd Tweedy, he of Todd's Salsa and a member of our group, left a terrible and sad message on his Facebook page earlier today. The police are searching for him but there is no news currently. FYI as the hope is that spreading the word is potentially helpful. #findtodd on Twitter.


Following close on the premature death of my friend Christine last week, seeing this really shook me. I've only met Todd once, when he dropped off some of his amazing salsa for me to sample — though earlier last night, I had just mentioned I needed to trek over to the Wedge to get some. I've interacted with him a few times through the group, and always found him a genuinely nice guy. The news hit me hard.

I reacted the only way I could think of — joining in the early #findtodd tweets to raise awareness, posting it on a local message board, retweeting, and then the old-fashioned way, by looking for his red Passat (545 BLM license) myself. Soon after, everyone I knew was tweeting and reacting, with tech reporter/friend Julio Ojeda-Zapata picking it up last night and old friend Jen Kane featured on KARE 11 tonight. There's a lot of buzz right now about reaching out to those with depression, and a lot of good awareness building. I am truly amazed at the way that the social media stream has picked this up and run with it.

Yet at the same time, it's been over 24 hours with no word. There are a lot of concerned and active people out there — and I am still deeply afraid that it is not enough.

UPDATE: Within an hour after I posted this, news came that he had been found. Incredibly relieving, but just the beginning of the journey for Todd. Let's hope he can teach us all to reach out a little more.