Thursday, March 31, 2011

Health Insurance fun

Early this year we received notice that our health insurance premium was increasing. This was expected. However, seeing as it crept up over $600 per month we decided it was time to do something about it.

And we found out that things were pretty screwed up.

First we went in to see about raising our deductible. This helped lower our monthly premiums. While we were looking at that, our advisor discovered that I still had a write-up on my file from several years ago when I was having panic attacks. I told him this hasn’t been an issue for the past several years. Since I started taking medication things have settled down quite nicely. He didn’t think the write-up was for the medication, but rather for the counseling I was receiving at the time. He recommended I write a letter explaining the current situation and he would try to get the write-up removed. After I did that and they reviewed my account, they removed the write-up. Oh, the write-up added an extra 25% to my premium.

We both are on the same health plan. Neither of us have direct health benefits. When I was hired, they bumped up my salary to cover some insurance, and Kathy’s boss would write a check every month to cover half of her health insurance. While we were looking at numbers, we discovered that the reimbursement amount had not changed in the past three years, even though our premium had increased each year. When Kathy talked to her awesome boss about increasing the amount he reimburses, he decided he wanted to go ahead and cover 100% of her insurance!

So we took three steps to lower our premium: increase deductible, remove write-up, and change Kathy’s work benefit. Let me tell you it was a success. Instead of increasing our monthly health insurance premium by 15% this year, we actually lowered it by 15%--for a quarterly payment! That's 60% less per month! Excellent news since I started taking classes and money will probably be tight.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Photography Classes

Late last year, I decided it was time to learn more about photography. So I signed up for classes at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division. In early January I headed back to the classroom.

The Art Institute works on a quarter schedule, and each quarter is broken up into two sessions for the online program. Full time is two classes per session, but since I am still working full time as well I only signed up for one class. My first two classes were Fundamentals of Design and Survey of Modern Art. While neither were directly related to photography, they were both very interesting. (In case you’re curious, I am on spring break this week so I have time to write blog entries.)

In Design, I learned about the basic building blocks of design and how to use them to convey ideas. I enjoyed sketching up some very basic designs, mostly in black and white. The final project was a bit more involved and introduced the concept of color. My theme was Suffused with Light.

Design Final Project - cgm   Design Final Project vert - cgm

My instructor like the horizontal version better. I liked the symmetry of the vertical one. Either way it was a fun project.

In Art History, we learned about various movements starting with Neoclassicism during the Enlightenment in the 1700s. A lot of styles, artists, and paintings were covered during the six weeks of this class. I read a bunch and wrote a bunch, but my favorite part was probably the studio assignments every week. I copied a Klimt and painted in the style of the Fauvists, as well as digitally solarizing a photo in the style of Man Ray.

I jokingly said this was the first painting I had done since I used my fingers in elementary school. Sadly that might not be far from the truth.

Getting sick the penultimate week of class was pretty stressful. And I was concerned about finding time to finish my final paper—a 7-page paper on art as political statement—until I looked at my grades and realized I only needed a 50% to get an A in the class. I have a hard time not turning in my best work, but knowing I didn’t need my best work made the paper much easier to complete. Basically I turned in a first draft and called it good. I ended getting 38 out of 40 points.

The best part of these classes has been learning new skills and rekindling old ones. Writing is something that I enjoyed in college (not colloquial writing like this, but paper writing with research and citations), but have not done since then. I am definitely going to try to find an outlet for writing as I continue schooling and look to the future.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bloggity blog blog

Yes, we have been remiss in updating this site. But instead of apologies, I am going to promise a plethora of updates. For at least the rest of this week, you can expect to find an update every day. Check back often!

For now, I wanted to share with you a video that a friend shared with me. Michael Wolff’s demeanor and ideas resonate with me. He talks about his muscles of seeing: “I better have muscles of seeing that allow me to see better than my colleagues.” In the video he expounds on this muscle as Curiosity, Appreciation, and Imagination.

I am working on these muscles. They are atrophied, but getting stronger every day. Enjoy this video; notice the beauty around you.