Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trick or Treat

As we stood outside the barn this morning soaking in the sunlight, Glen asked, "Is it supposed to be nice today, or is this just a trick?"

I told him I hadn't seen the forecast but we were sure due for a sunny day. Furthermore, a dry day would make trick or treating a lot easier.

The morning sun was no trick. We had a beautiful day here. I actually had to dig out my sunglasses for our trick or treating adventure. I can't remember the last time I needed them to drive.

Trick or treating this year was a blast. Last year, we tested milk on Halloween so Dan and I got a late start. After the second stop, Dan fell asleep in his carseat, putting an end to our trick or treating.

It also helped that Halloween fell on a Saturday this year. We were able to fit our outing in between chores. Monika didn't quite know what to make of all the hoopla, but Dan was beside himself with excitement. He practiced saying "trick or treat" all week and listed all of our planned stops several times for me.

However, when we got to the nursing home to visit his great-grandparents and the other residents, Dan turned into 'timid mouse'. He would only whisper "trick or treat" and "thank you". His bashfulness didn't impair his candy-seeking, though. He walked politely up each of the residents and held out his basket. I'm not sure who was more delighted, Dan or the residents.

A sunny day. Happy kids. Making people smile. It really was a treat of a day.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Too good to be true

As the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

When the disposal company we were doing business started charging us a fee for recycling, I took our business to another company. We got a better rate for our dumpster and, even better, no-sort recycling.

I take recycling pretty seriously. It just about kills me to see recyclables in the dumpster. I visited a landfill once and was appalled to see how much of the trash there could have been recycled. Every time I'm tempted to toss a cottage cheese container instead of rinsing and recycling it, some inner force moves me to do what's right, rather than what's easier. So, everything in our household that bears a little triangle – from empty toilet paper rolls to steel cans – gets recycled. Even recyclables from the barn are sorted out. You'd be surprised how much barn trash can be recycled.

The worst part about recycling, other than remembering to put it out, is sorting it. So I really, really loved no-sort recycling. We have three cans in our kitchen, one for recyclables, one for dumpster trash and one for gutter stuff – food scraps, paper towels, etc. With no-sort recycling, when the can was full I just emptied it into the recycling cart. It was a breeze.

I had often wondered how it was possible to sort all of that recycling out, but our disposal company claimed it had a machine that sorted the recyclables. I probably should have paid more attention to those questions in my head.

We found out on Saturday that our disposal company's license has been revoked as a result of several violations – one of which was commingling recyclables and non-sorted trash. By the time I finished reading the newspaper article about the claims, I was fuming. I still can't believe that all my recyclables ended up in a landfill somewhere. My anger about the fate of my recyclables is minor, however, compared to my feelings about being misled.

Our new dumpster will arrive next week. And I'll be back to separating my paper, plastic and metals. At least now it will be recycled.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Paying through the nose –

– for private health insurance

Like most other dairy farmers, we've been cutting costs everywhere we possibly can. Lately, we started to take a look at reducing the cost of our health insurance by switching to a new plan with a higher deductible. Last April when our policy was renewed, we opted to stay with our current plan, rather than switch to Blue Cross Blue Shield's new plan – which is only offered with a minimum deductible level $500 more than our current plan. (Our current plan is being phased out.) We really didn't expect to be a financial pinch for quite this long. So we started looking at the options for our family under the new plan.

I usually don't have to think about how much we're paying for health insurance because our premium is automatically paid each month. But since we've been looking into a switch, I've been thinking about it daily. With milk prices where they're at, it takes 6,000 pounds of milk to pay our monthly premium – even more if you deduct production expenses first. Next year it will cost even more. In the four years we've had private health insurance Glen's and my portion of the premium has increased almost $200 a month.

The worst part, however, isn't the price – it's the policy terms. We had group health insurance coverage while Glen worked for the state. After applying for private coverage when we started farming, we learned that not all health insurance policies are equal. We found out I was pregnant shortly after applying for health insurance; Blue Cross Blue Shield spent eight weeks investigating my health records to make sure the pregnancy hadn't started before we applied before they would grant us coverage. BCBS considers pregnancy a pre-existing condition. Furthermore, the company won't cover any maternity expenses for the first 18 months of coverage. That's the part that irks me the most. Group health insurance customers aren't subject to waiting periods for coverage. That pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, which was probably for the better, because the medical expenses that would have come with that baby's birth would have crippled us financially. Dan was born 12 days after our 18-month maternity-coverage ban ended.

Health insurance is one of those necessary evils of self-employment. We can't risk not having health insurance, so we're at the mercy of the health insurance companies' outrageous rates, annual premium hikes and discriminatory policies.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cheaper isn't always better

Cheaper isn't always better. This concept was illustrated twice for us this week.

First, we started feeding some of the big round bales of alfalfa we made during our second crop harvest. We made some of the second crop into large square bales and small square bales as well. When you compare the hay from the three different bale types, the hay in the big round bales has significantly less leaves than the large and small square bales.

We had heard that round balers knock leaves off, but we'd never seen it so clearly demonstrated. Glen's father and brother own a round baler, so those bales cost much less to make, compared to the $8 a bale we spend for the big square bales. In the long run, though, the feed quality we lost by knocking all the leaves off will probably cost us more than the expense of hiring a custom operator to make big squares.

Second, when I picked up diapers this week, I purchased a generic brand. I usually buy name brand diapers, despite their higher cost, because they perform better. I've used generic diapers in the past with unsatisfactory results. But since money is tight I thought I'd give the generic diapers another try. It only took about two diaper changes before Glen asked, "Just how much did you save on these diapers?" He can't stand them. And I have to agree. We've had more leaks and more diaper rash and spent more time trying to put them on than we ever had with the name brand diapers. Plus, the material used to make them is so stiff it can't be comfortable.

Then, yesterday in the barn, Dan told me, "My diapee fallin' off." The inferior velcro used to fasten the diaper had indeed come undone, so he was running around with his diaper between his knees.

When you add up the time spent fussing with these diapers and doing extra laundry, not to mention the bottle of Spray n' Wash it will take to treat all of Monika's leaks, I'm beginning to think the generic diapers might not be more economical after all.

A penny saved isn't always a penny earned, despite what the price tag says.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wake up, Mommy! Wake up, Daddy!

Dan has moved into a monsters and nightmares stage – as least we hope it's just a stage. He runs around the house yelling, "Monsters are coming! Monsters are coming! Run!"

He's also been waking up in the wee hours of the morning, coming into our room and whispering, "Wake up, Mommy! Wake up, Daddy!" Hey, who needs an alarm clock when a toddler will do. As if the mornings don't come early enough around here...

We think nightmares are waking him up. For the first couple mornings Glen tried laying down with him to help him go back to sleep, but all that came of that was a late start on morning chores. So, now when Dan's up, he joins us in the barn for chores. He plays for a little while and then usually goes back to sleep in his stroller.

The other morning he woke up crying, something that rarely happened before this monster stuff started. I asked him what was wrong. He said he had a bad dream about alligators and hippopotamuses.

The next morning was the same. Except this time it really took him a long time to settle down. When he could finally tell me about his dream, he said, "Pumpkin coming! Pumpkin coming! Pumpkin bite my back. I climb up fence!"

I did a quick mental scan of the books we'd read recently. No scary pumpkins there. We have been seeing more pumpkins around as decorations in yards, but how those pumpkins turned into biting monsters we may never know.

I can only imagine what our mornings are going to be like as Halloween turns innocent looking pumpkins into scary pumpkins. How will I be able to tell Dan those biting pumpkins are only imaginary then?