We just got back from a week-long vacation in Chincoteague Island in Virginia. Here are the photos.
The weather has been gorgeous here in Florida for the past few days and we're making the most of it. Naveen is just over a year old now and has become relatively adept at walking so we can finally do more outdoors activities. Juliet takes him to the local park regularly and today I joined them. We didn't go out much last week because she was sick with a seasonal bug so we were all happy to be out today.
Naveen is learning to talk and babbles a lot whenever he is excited. He has started to point at things and looks at his big colorful beach ball whenever I yell "Ball!" It's amazing to see him learn new things by the day. Last week he was scared of slides and today he was pushing himself down them repeatedly.
My parents are coming back to stay with us next month and I know they are counting down the days. We can't wait for them to see Naveen walking and talking. And Juliet and I could probably use another romantic weekend by the beach.
Happy TwosdayTue, 2nd Feb '16, 1:20 pm::
Today is 2/2, which is two twos. It's a Tuesday, and the year (2,16) consists of only powers of two. It's also threesday: 33rd day of the year with 333 days left in this leap year, so 33/333.
It's a beautiful day outside here in sunny Florida and my bird Echo has been singing non-stop all morning. After a whole month of cold weather with heavy rainfall during which our roof started leaking, our porch got smelly, and my son, wife, and I got sick multiple times with different annoying seasonal bugs, things appear to be going back to normal. The roofing guy just left after making the necessary fixes, the porch smell has all but disappeared, and I haven't coughed once in 24 hours.
It may seem trifling but annoyances like these add to my stress and my mind keeps dwelling on them until I do something about them. But since most of these take time to resolve, there's not much I can to do except wait. That is until I found out a way to trick my mind. I came up with two simple lists: Chaos and Fun. I spent a few minutes and added a bunch of things to my fun list - solving puzzles, playing Wii U, visiting nature parks etc. Then I added everything that was bothering me to the Chaos list - Roof leak, porch smell, my cough, unfinished paperwork that I keep pushing off etc.
Now, whenever something repeatedly bugs me and causes me stress, I immediately add it to the Chaos list and then, pick something from the Fun list to do next. The last thing that stressed me out was the mess of electric cables in our living room, compounded by my frayed laptop charger cord. I'm trying to work and the cords keep getting in the way and my laptop keeps losing charge. So I added "living room electric cords" to my Chaos list and instantly felt happy that I realized it was just an annoyance, not some life-altering trauma. Then I thumbed down the Fun list and picked something I'd like to do next: "Write a blog entry". And here I am, not stressing about electric cords but instead sharing this one trick I found that can make your life just as glorious as mine.
If you are like me and live by a Todo list or detailed calendar, the Chaos and Fun lists easily merge into the daily routine. When I notice something is causing tiny amount of chaos in my life and add it to the Chaos list, I also immediately make a note in my Todo list to fix it at some point in the near future. This way, come Thursday, when I might not be in the middle of being stressed out by electric cords, I can actually solve that problem with an open mind i.e. buy new cords or move furniture around to organize the cables etc.
I call this a mind trick because I am definitely trying to trick my mind into feeling happy and less stressed even though sometimes it feels there is chaos all around me. It works for me for multiple reasons. The moment I note it down, I feel like I did something positive right away, especially if I add the fix-it-task to my Todo list. Then doing something from the Fun list immediately distracts me from whatever it was that bothered me. And I can freely allow myself to be distracted because the thing that was bothering me is not lost in the fog of my mind but rather in an organized list that I can review later. And the best part is reviewing the Chaos list later. I've been jotting things down into my Chaos list for about a year now and despite things feeling completely chaotic all year with our newborn, family, social events, pets, and house issues, the list has never had more than 7 items simultaneously. Compared to my Fun list with double the items, the chaos seems minor. And that's the entire point of this - clear my mind of the repeated annoyances and make handling them seem almost trivial.
Hurts every timeMon, 25th Jan '16, 11:20 pm::
This isn't the first time I am uncomfortably waiting for one of our aging pets to slowly drift off into everlasting sleep and if I have learned anything, it is that it hurts every single time. Milly, my favorite prairie dog, is breathing her last breaths tonight. She's been my favorite since we got her and she always replied to my calls. Every time I would pass her, I would shout "eeeek!" and she would immediately reply back "eeeek!" To her, I was one of her people and to me, she was family.
Here she is in the front, happily digging and burrowing, just the way I want to remember forever. Good night sweet Milly.
Baby's Day OutThu, 31st Dec '15, 11:30 pm::
Today was a fantastic end to 2015. I spent the entire day outdoors with Naveen. We went to a local nature preserve and saw a variety of birds, fish, crabs, and even a few water snakes. We took a nice long walk on the boardwalk and then played in the children's playground. Afterwards, we had some ice cream to cool off, followed by a lazy, hour-long lunch at a local Cuban deli. Post-lunch, we met up with my friends Kelly and Chris at the beach for some sun and sand. Their son Cameron is slightly older than Naveen and the kids played in the sand while us parents kept them from eating it. Once Naveen had his fill of the beach, we drove home, cleaned up, and got ready for a nap. Just then Juliet came home from work and as soon as Naveen heard his mommy, he forgot all about the nap.
Last week I took a few days off from coding so we could have a relaxing Christmas with family. We put up our Christmas tree earlier this month and spent quite a few evenings reading to the baby by its soft light. We recently bought a Nintendo Wii U and Juliet and I have been playing lots of mini-games after we put the baby to sleep each night. We're coming up with a new routine that works for all three of us and while it's taking some effort to get used to, it's definitely much better than the crazy, no-sleep life we had for most of this year.
I don't have any major resolutions for 2016 but I do want to keep up the progress I've made this year with my health, leisure, and social life. So instead of a specific goal like "go to gym 5 times a week", I just want to keep being active, attend more parties/events, take more vacations, and overall get better at planning how to spend the little free time I have.
Secret WeddingsTue, 22nd Dec '15, 11:55 am::
Congrats to all three different friends of ours who got secretly married to their long-term boyfriends/girlfriends in the past few days! Two of the happily married couples are still not making their marriages public for family reasons so I can't even mention them here. That leaves my college buddy Tony to capture the limelight. He married his long-term girlfriend Olya on Saturday and shared the news with everyone after the ceremony. Congrats!!! We were so happy to meet Olya earlier this year at our baby shower and wish you guys a happy, loving life ahead.
Another close friend of mine told me recently that he is going to have a court-marriage next month, while the public wedding ceremony might not be until a year later. Last year two other couples we know did the same thing. Having eloped ourselves in 2008 after an impromptu hush-hush wedding, I'm surprised that we are not alone anymore. In the last five years, more of our friends eloped or quietly got married than had a typical wedding with guests, invitations, and receptions.
It is possible that our circle of friends is an odd exception and there has been no change in wedding behavior. But looking at the societal and financial aspects of life in the 2010s, the trend seems very clear. People in committed relationships still want to get married. No change in that. There are a lot of tax and legal benefits. And the titles "Husband/Wife" carry more social prestige than "boyfriend/girlfriend." But more and more people no longer want to make a big deal out of it, regardless of their age, financial situation, or social circles. For centuries people have had weddings befitting their wealth - the rich have grandiose weddings, the poor keep it simple, and everyone else somewhere in between. But now I see even relatively well-off couples from wealthy families opting for a quick 2-minute court wedding with no reception.
The good thing to come out of all this is that no longer must everyone be required to have the exact same things in every wedding. Let's see the variations I have encountered from happily married couples:
- Sign the marriage certificate locally without fanfare, elope to a pretty place for pictures/honeymoon (our method)
- Get secretly married before December-end for tax purposes, have a big wedding and/or reception with family and friends later
- Get secretly married before December-end for tax purposes, announce on Facebook after professional photos are ready, no wedding/reception
- Sign the marriage certificate and don't tell anyone except your closest friends because if your family finds out, there will be a lot of drama and heartbreak
- Have a fun wedding/reception following all of the traditions
- Have a fun wedding/reception without any of the traditions
- Have a court-wedding with just your friends
- Have a court-wedding with just your parents/siblings
- Have multiple weddings - one for legal purpose, one for destination, one for religious/family
In the long-term, it doesn't matter if you had a blast at your wedding or if it was full of awkward family issues or even if you just signed a piece of paper and went to work the next day. What matters is how the rest of your marriage works out. So to all of my married couples, good luck with that!
Season of lightsFri, 18th Dec '15, 3:15 pm::
When we moved into this house 3 years ago, I replaced most of the heavily used incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) to reduce our electric bill. But regardless of the brand, vendor, or quality of CFL bulbs I bought, they kept going bad in 6-12 months and I ended up using incandescent bulbs in more places than I wanted. So for years now we've had a mix of incandescent and CFL lights all over the house. A few months ago I estimated that over $100/month of our electric bill was just due to the tons of bulbs (candelabra and regular), recessed lights, and halogen lights!
A small 60w bulb left on at all times will use $70/year in electricity! Replace that with an equally bright CFL and while it only uses $20/year in electricity, in my experience there's a good chance the bulb will blow out within a year. But replace that with a $2.44 LED and the cost goes down to just $10/year and the LED is guaranteed to work for at least 3 years non-stop.
Last month I started the slow and tedious process of converting every single light in our house to LED. I spent about $300 and replaced every single light except for candelabra bulbs and some fluorescent tubes. I'm waiting for a good deal (hopefully under $500) to replace all the candelabra bulbs. Since we rarely use the fluorescent tubes and plan on replacing them with recessed lights in a few years, I don't see the value in switching them over to LED right now.
Once I am done replacing the candelabra bulbs, I estimate that lighting will cost under $20/month. This means the LED lights will pay for themselves in a year! After that we save $1000/year in electric bills, have a much brighter house, and I rarely have to change bulbs again. Next year I plan on buying a prelit LED Christmas Tree too. I love living in the future!
After years of discussing that we should buy a gaming console, this week we finally bought Nintendo Wii U. Juliet and I are not fans of first-person-shooters or fast-paced action games. I've always loved puzzles and she likes games that keep you moving so the Wii U was a perfect fit for us. We bought a really neat puzzle game called Art of Balance that I love and we'll probably get Wii Fit U so she can try out the different fitness programs. She refuses to play Wii bowling with me anymore (I won our first and only game) and instead wants to keep playing Mario Kart (she won 5 out of 6 rounds).
The last 10 months with the baby and the 9 months prior have changed our life so much that we forgot what our normal routine was. Now that Naveen is growing from an infant into a toddler, it is becoming easier to take care of him, giving us a little more free time to play video games or just relax after he's gone to bed. We have quite a few chores / home projects lined up before the end of the year but hopefully after that, we will get to spend more time doing fun things.
Next week, we're planning on doing a number of fun family things - decorate tree ornaments with baby, visit museums / theme parks, and go kayaking. It is way too warm right now and looks like it will be 81F/28C on Christmas Day! So instead of making snow angels, maybe we'll jump into a river.
Life updatesSat, 12th Dec '15, 10:45 pm::
This was a very private year for me. From the birth of my son to my family and friends visiting us, 2015 was all about real-life social connections and nurturing relationships. Most of the time, I kept the going-ons private and offline. We took probably 5000 photos of my son but posted only a handful of them online.
This was a year of learning and doing for me, very little introspection or relaxation. I could have easily made more time for kayaking (which is when I do most of my contemplation about life) but I just didn't want to. Maybe because I'm still learning how to be a good parent or maybe because of social obligations, but I didn't make much time for myself. Most of the year I was in autopilot mode, simply doing what I needed to without overthinking my actions or the reasons behind them.
This was a year without creativity for me and I don't want to repeat this again in my life. I can't look back at this year and proudly say "I made that" about anything. I don't regret a moment I spent with my loved ones instead of making something cool but I do know that I get my energy and drive from making, not consuming. So in the long run, I need to be more creative to keep myself sane.
This was a year when I came to terms with life, death, and everything in between. From insurance policies to prolonged illness, from baby's first words to news of a friend's death, this year drove home the point that I am smack dab in the middle of adulthood, accepting everything life throws at me. A few years ago I would lose my wits dealing with the ups and downs of routine life but the roller-coaster of this year makes the past turmoils seem almost smooth sailing. Apparently, this year I also started using a lot of conflated metaphors. I plan to put a stop to that right after this sentence.
This was a loving year for me. While not much changed in my career, finances, or social-standing, I have never felt so connected and loved by the people in my life. Juliet is an unbelievably loving mother and wife, my parents and sister are always there to talk to me about anything (especially Naveen), and my friends and coworkers have been so supportive all year. There was no drama, no guilt trips, no awkward social situations all year. It's been a wonderful year people-wise and I couldn't be more thankful for it.
Health Insurance in the USMon, 2nd Nov '15, 9:40 am::
Now that the health insurance open enrollment period has officially started, it is time for me to decide how sick my son and I plan on being between January 1st and December 31st of 2016.
If I decide that we will not fall sick, get injured, or use any emergency medical care, then I will go with cheapest insurance plan where I can have a Health-Savings-Account. For us here in Tampa Bay Florida, the cost is $400/month and we have to bear 100% of all medical costs up to $12900/year before insurance pays anything. This means if we both get really sick, even though we decided well in advance not to, we will pay a total of $17700 for the year for the insurance plan and out-of-pocket medical costs.
If I decide that one or both of us will fall moderately sick and have to see our doctors a few times but still not get in an accident, require an operation, or be rushed to the Emergency Room, then I will buy a Silver Plan that costs about $500/month and we only have to pay $30 to see our primary doctors and $75 to see most specialists. If we decide to change our mind in the future and get into an unscheduled accident or choose to get a major surgery without planning in advance, we will pay a total of $17200 for the year for the insurance plan and out-of-pocket medical costs.
If I decide that one or both of us will fall severely ill, get in an accident, require an operation, or be frequently rushed to the Emergency Room, then I will buy a Gold Plan that costs about $585/month and we only have to pay $10 to see our primary doctors and $40 to see most specialists. When we finally get into our scheduled accident or elect for major surgery, we will pay a total of $17000 for the year for the insurance plan and out-of-pocket medical costs.
The beauty of the health insurance market is that it doesn't matter how correctly I decide my future health conditions, the worst case condition is about the same for almost all the plans - between $15000 and $20000 per year for a 35 year old male and his 9 month old son. That is, if both my son and I are in a major accident or we get sick for a prolonged time and require hospitalization, we will pay about the same amount regardless of the insurance plan I pick.
Deciding the best case is what health insurance is all about. If I correctly decide that we will not have to go to the hospital all year and we stick to our decision no matter what, we only pay the low monthly cost of $400 and can squirrel away over $6000 into a Health-Savings-Account, which we can use in a later year when we decide to get sick or be injured. Too bad, only the lower cost plans enable you to save into a Health-Savings-Account. If I incorrectly decide that we will get a little sick and see an ENT or two a few times but instead we remain perfectly healthy throughout the year, then I just wasted $100/month in extra insurance that I didn't use and cannot get back.
You might have read all of the above and wondered why I keep using the word 'decide' instead of 'guess' or 'predict'. That is because I use guess and predict to denote market risk, where you can gain or lose depending on how the future turns out, for example the stock market or even elections. You can make educated guesses and predict the outcome. But I feel very dirty trying to bet on the health of my infant son. Of the thousands of spreadsheets I have made in my life, the only one that made me feel sick to my core is the one in which I had four different rows of his predicted health, the best-suited insurance plans, and the corresponding premiums.
By definition, a health insurance market with competing insurance agencies requires me to take a gamble on our future health. But from my son's point of view, I am not gambling. I am deciding. I am deciding whether I should pay higher monthly insurance premium or not. If I do, we don't have to wonder if his fever is high enough to go to doctor - we can just go if he feels warm enough because it only costs us $10 to see the pediatrician. But if I decide to opt for a low premium plan, then going to the doctor costs $125 every time and we don't want to do that unless it is a real medical issue.
There is now a financial incentive for everyone to diagnose themselves. The more you want to diagnose yourself, the lower the cost of your health insurance plan will be, especially since the worst-case is about the same for all the plans. So yes, I am 'deciding' if we plan on being healthy or not next year. The cheaper plans that don't cover anything until you first pay over $12000 in medical costs, require you to self-diagnose everything and work well for healthy people who won't need to go to doctors. The expensive plans make doctors visits cheaper so you rarely have to second guess yourself and work well for people who have health issues. What I am deciding now is which group I want to belong to next year. Once I have that answer, then I have to make sure my doctor, my son's doctor, and most of the specialists we have seen (e.g. ENT) accept the specific plan from the selected insurance company.
And that my friends is why it takes me a month to decide.