Monthly Archives: October 2015

Take a number

We like to believe, as the phrase goes, that we’re not “just a number.” And more importantly we don’t want to be treated like we’re “just a number.” I sure feel that way and I bet you do too.

Years ago, before all the initiatives and changes in health care – none of which I aim to debate here – I worked a short time at a temporary job with a health insurance company. It was a miserable place for me. My work was clerical and repetitive, the environment was abysmal, and I think I’d been naive beforehand, because I’d never seen quite so clearly the words “just a number” in action.

This company processed a staggering amount of claims and paperwork. And this was when paperwork was literally paper. Employees had great piles of forms falling all over their desks, some more so than others – things could get fairly sloppy. Papers went missing. And I don’t know where the blame for this lay, but there was a big issue with duplicate claim forms – finding duplicates was part of my job – in that the same claim might have multiple case numbers assigned it, making it appear as different claims. I’m sure that gummed things up.

I had no clue an insurance company worked like this. The volume was dismaying. The work flow was far from polished. And speed was encouraged. It was the handwritten notes intended to motivate employees tacked to the outside of the work station partitions that really got to me:

WE NEED 20,000 CLAIMS PROCESSED BY NOON!!

Geez-o-flip. How depressing is that?? There was no uncertainty here. People were numbers. In a scary way. Sometimes I’d think about the poor person who’d filed a claim and had no idea what went on behind the scenes. Probably better they didn’t know.

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Short Thought 133 (things)

I’m at a point in my life where I think I get equal pleasure from acquiring things and getting rid of things. I wonder if the pendulum will keep swinging in favor of getting rid of stuff or whether I’ve reached a state of constancy. Admittedly, the delight of new ownership has not left me but then again, I’m jaded enough to know not many things live up to their original promise. It’s the odd things that do… I remain thrilled with a tuna strainer and a battery tester. Who would think?

I love me an “on the go” snack

It is unwise for me to leave the house without a snack in tow. I’m the sort of person who needs a steady flow of food for a myriad – okay, at least a couple – of reasons. I’d never willingly fast. Are you outta your head?!

Since I’m generally on foot I have to think like a day hiker or maybe a pack donkey, which I often suspect I resemble depending on how much stuff I’m toting about on my person. This means I want light, easily transportable snack food that isn’t likely to become questionably inedible before I get to it, especially on wicked hot summer days.

One of my simplest go-to’s is homemade “trail mix” usually composed of raisins, unsalted peanuts and sunflower seeds stowed in a plastic container. Sometimes I’ll add other ingredients like unsweetened coconut but since I’m tossing my snacks down the gullet from the plastic cup, that can result in unknowingly walking around with coconut crumbs on my face after the fact.

Filling and healthy

Filling and healthy

To round out my mini-meal and get a fuller compliment of nutritional fare, I occasionally take a pre-wrapped portion of string cheese that I keep in the freezer. Oh, being the frugal, practical sort, I’ve also tried cutting & wrapping my own single portion size from a block of cheese but that doesn’t always work so well; the cheese gets melty in its plastic wrap and a good bit less appetizing. Or, if I store it in a plastic container, then I’ve got TWO containers taking up space. A nuisance I tell you! Especially once they’re empty and I still have to carry them around. Like they’re dependents adding nothing to the team. As with so many of life’s activities, once the food is gone, I lose all interest.

So string cheese it is. I wait for a sale and buy a bag of pre-portioned, wrapped, 1 oz morsels of part-skim mozzarella. My goal is to get them at .25 each, so that I’m paying $4/lb. That’s about as high as I’ll justify. A local chain grocery store advertised just such a sale on their in-house brand this very week. Hot diggity! (I thought to myself.) Cheap cheese. Yay! I eagerly went to buy my dairy. Why, I’d even brought a freezer pack from home (more crap to carry) so I could escort my perishables home.

The store had the cheese in stock and I was all set to load up when I noticed something fishy (or is that cheesy?). What was this?! The traditionally 1 oz string cheese portions were a shocking .83 ounces. .83 ounces??! What the hell kind of size is THAT? I’ll tell you: A cheap, sons of bitches size! The cheeses looked stunted. My clever, observant eye could plainly tell the difference. Tricky dogs! This is the kind of shifty practice I expect from name-brand businesses, i.e., whittling away the size of products slowly and almost imperceptibly while maintaining or raising the price till the day comes nobody thinks twice about paying $3 for a 5 ounce bag of potato chips and the suits sit in the board room chuckling and congratulating themselves on how smart they are and wasn’t hiring that ivy league social psychologist to decipher exactly how much they could decrease the size before customers balked well worth her fee?

For the briefest of moments I considered sucking it up and permitting myself to be robbed of .17 ounces of cheese per stick. Then I came to my senses. No way! Maybe other less vigilant, more forgiving consumers were willing to look aside or worse, never notice the egregious gouging at all, but I was going to fight The Man by gum! (Or is that by cheese?) I walked out, my head high. Well, not entirely. I exited by way of the seafood and prepared foods aisle, which leads into the donuts and cakes area, staring right and left all the while, my head swiveling to gawk at the array of various overpriced, tempting, and often not-so-healthy delicacies, muttering to myself, “Look away, look away.” 

I made it out but I was string cheeseless. The following day I ventured to my small local grocery store which has recently reintroduced a no-name store brand it carried some years back. I checked out the cheese. Voila! Not only did they have bargain brand string cheese but it was on sale! A sale set to expire that very day. At a lovely .237 per piece (I’ve done the math for accurate reporting purposes here). I quickly examined the portion size. A full one ounce portion just as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. I’m certain it’s in an amendment somewhere.

A proper portion

A proper portion

Healthy, Easy Tomato Juice

I got this idea from someone else’s recipe and then doctored the ingredients just a bit. Tomato juice in the store is usually loaded with salt. You can make your own delicious, healthy version with a can of tomato paste. I got a can of store brand for .50. (If you like this drink, I suggest grabbing a bunch of cans when they’re cheap or on sale.)

The label on the can I bought listed Vitamins A and C, as well as protein, iron and fiber. (Looking online I see that a name brand tomato paste also includes potassium so it’s safe to assume that’s in there too.)

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Put the tomato paste into a blender with water. I filled the blender to the top line, 6 cups. Then add a splash of lime juice. Any kind will do but I had a fancy-pants brand which is really tasty.

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Finally, add just a bit of fresh ground pepper and blend all the ingredients. There’s 150 calories in a single can of tomato paste so a one-cup drink of this juice is under 30 calories. And good-for-you calories at that.

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Store the extra in the fridge and drink or freeze within a few days since there’s no preservatives.

Pretty and tempting

Pretty and tempting