February 2016 Archives

Living Large with FSAFEDS

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The open season is over so, if you are a Fed and didn't sign up for FSAFEDS, then just keep this in mind.

We buy lots of contact lens cleaner with our FSAFEDS money. And glasses. Well not lots of glasses, but we do buy glasses when the dentist fails to find an excuse to put a cap in our mouth. That or more fillings. And if dental bills, prescription glasses, and the several kinds of expensive contact lens cleaner the Help goes through doesn't spend all our FSAFEDS cash, we get fancy.

UBER
I discovered that I could get reimbursed for Uber rides to and from the doctor a few years ago. When I was going through a health issue, the Help would drive me to the medical center, but that stopped after the valet service (normally we self park, but that day they were packing in cars) messed up the car's clutch. After that, cabs were way cheaper than the $1,500 we paid to fix the clutch. I used a few cabs then one day I used Uber. And FEDSFEDS reimbursed me for the ride. So far it's been UberX or Uber-taxi, I haven't tried seeing if I'd get reimbursed for UberBlack.

Insoles
Yeah, not as fancy as Uber, but in a walkable neighborhood, in a walkable part of the city these help. So go for the super fancy Dr. Scholl's. Or you can test if they'll reimburse for the Birkenstock arch supports. They should, but I haven't tried it.

Now there have been some changes in 2015-2016 and so I plan to test the following out.

Acupuncture/ Chinese medicine/ Massage-
According to their site "You can use your FSA or HSA to pay for ALL services at Pekoe!" on 9th St NW.  I just submitted a claim for massage therapy elsewhere. I could have sworn that previously you needed a doctor's recommendation to make massage therapy eligible. But I was recently going down the list to share with a co-worker what she could blow her money on from 2015 on besides another pair of glasses and saw massage and acupuncture listed. For massage there were no qualifiers but I chose a spot that advertised massage therapy. I do have an ache that needs soothing, so it is not for the fun of having a massage.

Re-hydration Liquids- or hangover cure
Pedialyte. I like some drinks, but as I get older more than one glass becomes problematic and that just doesn't do when you are dining at Chez Fancy Pants with the wine pairing.

There are other things on the list of things we can buy adn get reimbursed for but they aren't all that exciting (Breathe Right Strips anyone?) or they reveal a little too much about us.

If one wanted to they could maximize their FSAFEDS with a day at a place offering therapeutic massages, then a night on the town where next to your favorite bar/restaurant, you later pick up your prescription from the 24 hour pharmacy and a bottle of Pedialyte then from the pharmacy get an Uber home.

Live large and healthy my friends.

Oh Baltimore

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Baltimore is one of the reasons for renaming this blog.
I've been spending a fair amount of time in Baltimore City lately. Why? I'm looking for an investment property there. I have another investment in my home state, but there is a time limit of how long I plan hold it so I've been looking for a replacement closer to home.
You are here BaltimoreAnyway, I've spent days and some nights hanging out in Baltimore, getting to know the city better, and I couldn't help but notice a few differences between DC and our sister city to the north.

More Industrial

DC was never an industrial city. The government is and was our major industry. Not just the government politicians, but government bureaucrats, and government contractors. Somehow you throw in a lot of non-profits, including universities and that's us. This creates place for a lot of literate people who may or may not be intellectuals and thinkers, a knowledge based economy.

Baltimore has a strong unquestionable industrial history and sorta present. I highly recommend wandering over to the Baltimore Museum of Industry just to learn a bit about the various blue collar employing industries that made Baltimore great. But now, since American manufacturing isn't as big as it used to be, the joke is maybe one can get a job at John Hopkins, the behemoth school that seems to be taking over a large portion of the city and is its own industry. The University of Maryland- Baltimore and MICA (two other schools) are attempting to carve out their own parts of the city at a much slower pace. Industry-wise a lot of people are placing their bets with Under Armour (you thought I was gonna write Horseshoe Casino?).

And Baltimore is either more accepting or comfortable with its industrial side as you could be walking along in a neighborhood, turn a corner and find garages where people work across the street from houses where people live. Washington wouldn't stand for it. DC's industrial areas are shrinking and being replaced by housing. At some point we'll be nothing more than offices and housing, with a little retail on the ground floor. Yes, I know of the small breweries and distilleries, but we are not going to sprout a tiny Brooklyn (NYC) anywhere as there is very little industrial space for this sort of experimentation without having to hop through permitting and zoning hoops. DC may give industry lip service but our heart is not in it.

Poor White People
Baltimore has plenty of what you don't see in the District of Columbia. Poor white people. Goes back to that industry thing. We (DC) don't have a lot of the kind of jobs that hire poor people. No industrial jobs and job gentrification, where the job is more costly for the employer than it needs to be, so the employer is less likely to take a chance on someone with less education and experience.

Loosey-Goosey
It is hard to put my finger on and it does not apply in all areas.
The best example was experienced when the Help and I went dancing in Baltimore. The Help remarked there was more "flailing" on the floor than we were accustomed to. When we dance in around DC, even beginners make an attempt to do it the right way. The message we got in Baltimore was there is no right way, just have fun. And when people are just having fun it looks like a whole lotta chaos to those of us accustomed to more orderly events.
Sometime ago somebody foolishly tried to make "Keep DC Weird" a thing. That's Austin, TX thing, not ours. Something like "Keep DC Wonky" is more appropriate, because we can get wonky. What do you expect in a city based on a knowledge economy? Baltimore is friendly, but not at all wonky.

Vacant Houses
As you may know I still control the DC Vacant Properties blog. It's a slow project because really, we don't have a lot of vacant properties with our real estate booming and all. Not a lot when compared to Baltimore. O-M-G! I see vacant houses coming in on the train, walking around scoping neighborhoods, they are all over the place. Blocks upon blocks, rows upon rows of vacant properties.
I know 20 years ago, DC also had blocks of vacant crumbly rat holes. Say what you want about gentrification, it does cut the number of vacant houses down, leaving the hard to deal with sticklers (Shiloh properties, 509 O St NW, etc).
Baltimore has a great vacant properties blog, Baltimore Slumlord Watch. I love how the blog's author names the city council person, state senators and state delegates for where the vacant property sits, along with links to those politician's contact info or websites. By naming those persons of power in the posts and tagging them, it can tie that vacant property to their name.
Friday. 79 bus to Silver Spring. Woman, maybe 50-60 years old reads her credit card number into the phone on the bus.
I was close enough that if I were younger I might have been able to read her expiration date.

People. Do not do this. You are not in a cone of silence. I wish you were. But you aren't.

I ride the bus and the train and for fun the MARC. I can hear people yabbering off very sensitive information like credit card numbers, the last four digits of their social security number, their address, oh and one time a "counselor" talking about a juvenile and his issues.

When I am on the bus, and sometimes on the train (I can't hear my phone, I have a subtle ring for everyone but the Help) and I think the conversation isn't confirming where I am or a meeting, I say, "Can I call you back in ___ minutes? I'm on the _____." It doesn't always work, but most of the time it does.

So to the woman with all those mystery charges on your card, I wish you well.

Churches & Bike Lanes

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DDOT held a much, much better meeting Saturday than the first meeting in October about the bike lanes to connect Shaw with Penn Quarter and Downtown. It was orderly, no opportunity for hijacking, and residents, such as myself had a real chance to speak.

I did write out what I was going to say but public speaking nerves got the best of me so I only said a portion of what I had to say and quit before my time was up. As a pedestrian and cyclist getting past New York Ave and Mass Ave are the biggest safety hurdles for me. It is a shame that the 7th St bike lane ends at N St, because I need to get to D. I live, work, shop, eat & worship in the bike lane study area. My church at 8 & N, we might not be a historically black church but we're a historically diverse church. My church lost its parking lot when the convention center took it over and until recently had to rent a shared lot at 8th and O. My church, Immaculate Conception, started 150 years ago at 8th & N without parking, and will still be there 150 years from now with or without parking. Supporting protected bike lanes is the best pro-life option for this Catholic.

The church representatives from UHOP (a large church and landlord) and some other black churches stood in opposition of bike lanes, because it would take away free parking. Several in this and the October meeting mentioned the disappearance of many black churches in Shaw and blamed it on gentrification, claiming that bike lanes would push them out too.

1957ChurchMap This is a map from the late 1950s of all the churches in the area (you may need to click to see better). The number of churches (steeple, store front, & house) have been decreasing for years so don't blame gentrification. Since I have been here about 3 churches I can think of near me closed. One on 4th St was in a townhouse run by little old ladies who got too old to climb the stairs. Another church somewhere on 1st  is gone, why? Dunno. And most recently, the screamy lady church on the 1500 blk New Jersey Ave is being converted into housing. With the churches on NJ and 4th the reason why they are gone have more to do with aging out than gentrification.

Many churches, urban, suburban, rural, suffer from too many grey hairs and are dying out. If most of your parishioners look like they belong in active living/ assisted living or hospice care, your church is going to die and no amount of parking is going to save you, just delay the inevitable.

I'm not sure what prize is won by sticking around either. The Help (my spouse) attends a church that before the 21st century was a very white church. In the past decade or more it is very diverse, lotta asians, some Africans, South Asians, and Latinos. They moved and grew.  They moved to where their base lived, they moved to where they could share the gospel tapping into new populations, so grey hairs are a minority and families and college kids are the majority. They've grown so big that they've spun off new churches in far flung (metro don't go there so it is far flung to me) Maryland. The churches in Shaw that are not tapping into the population of residents are staying to die out or waiting til it is time for hospice care. They are too focused on being a black church and not a church for all people. There are Christians among the newcomers but they are going to Capital Hill Baptist Church or Grace DC ( went once and felt so old, so-so old) and these churches trying to hold on to free parking are ignoring the Shaw mission field for the grave.

If you work at a place that has been around for a long time and in an industry is not known for quickly chewing up people and spitting them out, you may have a number of old timers about. You know, the guy down the hall who has been working there since the 70s and should have retired a decade ago, but hasn't because this is all he knows. Those are the folks with seniority, with lots of institutional memory, but if they are an asset or burden really comes down to the individual.


I thought of this during a portion of the last BACA meeting I attended. There was the perennial "we should respect the old-timers" discussion that came up. Yes, some neighbors helped make the neighborhood what it is, but there are also scores of people who also made the neighborhood a better place who have since moved on, and a bunch of lumps who at best have been neutral assets and at their worst helping hold the neighborhood back, who never left.


It's a great injustice to have the lumps receive the credit of those who did positive work.


Jim Berry, former ANC and former BACA president moved on to Bates in the 80s maybe and moved out in the 21st century, he deserves a lot of credit. That man worked hard. Very hard for the residents of the northern half of Truxton Circle and parts of Bloomingdale. So hard I doubted he had a personal life. I have not encountered anyone since who was as dedicated and caring as Mr. Berry.


On my own street we have a range of hard neighborhood workers and useless lumps. We've also had people in the 15 years I've been here who have come did well, pitched in, started something, be the right man/woman at the right place/time, and move on. Miss Becky, Emil, Kelly, Liz, and Paul are the names of a few of those who came to my street, actively did their part to make it better, and moved on.


There are also those who did a lot of activist work for the neighborhood when they were younger or working or whatever and have faded in the background. I haven't seen Mary Ann Wilmer lately, I know she's still around. Nor some of that crowd of older women (who I'd complain about) whose gift was constantly complaining and calling the police. Newbies can be a little bit too tame in calling the cops, so the older women's persistence was how they helped. I feel obligated to mention a neighbor, she and Miss Becky got me involved with BACA, and an accident and it's super long road to recovery has kept her at home. She is one of those neighbors who deserves a lot of credit but isn't getting it because someone else is swiping it up.