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a girl lives in brooklyn
I just said, out loud to my empty apartment, “Echo, turn the living room light to 50%”. Then my living room light dimmed. Of course I said Thank You to this Internet of Things technology. Somehow I have come to rely on it. Although that was not intentional. As I regularly ask my Amazon Echo for the time, and turn my lights on remotely, it was only a matter of time I decided to add WiFi Sunglasses to my collection of things-i-dont-need-but-use-every-day-and-love.
Snapchat is an app that I truly love. Why? Because I love story telling. After all, I have been telling stories on this blog since 2009. I love telling stories via writing, audio, photos, drawing, and now thanks to Snapchat, video. It is just another medium used for long-form story telling. Though it is ultimately temporary. (Isn’t everything?) My username is lintacious, follow me!
A few years ago, I wrote a guide to using Snapchat. Recent interface changes and upgrades have made that slightly outdated. I still use the photo/video app daily to tell stories. Maybe these stories are pointless but they are my stories. My story of buying a bagel in Manhattan is different from your story of buying a bagel elsewhere.
Before Snapchat featured more corporate Discover stories, I truly believed it was the pinnacle of the shared experience. At a time, I thought Snapchat was what the Internet was designed for. I still think that for the most part.
Whether you are taking a photo of your cats, a video of your vacation, or yourself ranting, sharing every day first-hand experiences is a great way to give others a fresh perspective.
Spectacles are a hardware product by Snap,inc. (Snapchat’s parent company). They are the first product created by Snap. Considering, this is the first piece of hardware from a software company, it really is a feat in design, use, and of course, marketing.
By design, Snapchat is an app. There is not a web-based version of it. You can download your snaps (photos/videos) and post them elsewhere. But you can only use Snapchat itself on a phone. Up until now, you needed a phone to take a photo or video.
Simply put, Spectacles are sunglasses equipped with a camera allowing you to take 10-30-second videos. These videos are uploaded into Snapchat via Bluetooth or WiFi. Then you can share your first-hand hands-free experiences with your friends. The lens provides not only a truly first-person experience but also peripheral sight.
A camera’s limitation is framing. It is difficult to show the expanse of a mountain range or urban skyline because a photo is abruptly cut off. Even a panoramic shot does not give a reliable scope. With a 115-degree camera, Spectacles provide an all-around perspective similar to that of vision. Honestly, the videos feel surreal and take some getting used to.
Purchasing the Spectacles is an experience in itself. I know how “sucker” I sound right now. I know some millenial advertising exec is very happy to read this. That’s okay. I pick and choose my capitalistic battle and will let myself get sucked into this one. Anyway, the shopping experience for buying Spectacles in NYC was really… cool.
In many other cities, Snapchat has used vending machines placed in not-obvious locations. Once people hear word, the lines start and never end. It is a really good gimmick. In NYC, the purchasing experience was a little different.
NYC has a Spectacles pop-up store! Well, at least until New Year’s day. (The time of this writing is 12/22). The scarcity of the product is intentional and genius.
The way the store works is in two parts:
1) Show up to the store between 4-7p to receive a wrist-band with a time slot. This is the time you are to come back to the store to make your purchase. The last time slot is 9:30-10p. The wristbands will likely be gone by 8p.
2) Come back at your assigned time slot. You are then let into the store where there are 3 Spectacles vending machines. You are allowed/encouraged to document the experience (via Snapchat of course). At the machine, pick your color Spectacles, put in your Credit Card ($130/each), then get your tube, and you’re done! Limit 2 per customer.
This was by far the least stressful tech-buying experience I’ve encountered. No crowded store. Only the people buying Spectacles were allowed inside. No tourists inside taking lots of pictures but not buying anything. Very minimal. Super easy process all around. I got to the store right from work, so about 6:30pm and got a wristband for 9pm. Killing time wasn’t too terrible in midtown.
Currently, the Snapchat pop up store is located at 59th st and 5th avenue. Directly across from the Apple Store Cube.
My Snapchat stories aren’t always the most interesting. But I am one of those people who love seeing “day in the life” experiences. It’s the typical every day stuff that can be intriguing to watch. Also, I live in NYC. To a lot of people, it is a whole other world. Many people have only seen it in movies. I like being able to give a slightly more realistic view of what it’s like to live here. Even if most of the time I sit in my Brooklyn apartment with my cats. Hey, that’s real life too.
At $130, I am fine with the price point. I have been considering a go-pro off and on the past few years. Mostly to use while running half marathons and maybe during an event. But those action cameras are really expensive. At about $400 not including accessories, it’s been difficult to justify. Comparatively, the Spectacles are much easier to justify. Even if I don’t have a use-case for them right now. I am sure over time I will get my moneys worth out of them.
It is surreal knowing that everything I see is recording and could possibly be shared. But I also love that about it. It’s providing context to the world. Instead of looking at this perfectly framed photo of my curated coffee table that I rearranged meticulously and is not practical for every day use, you can see the entire room in all of it’s imperfect glory. That feels more real. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, yet, but for now I like it.
Let’s get right to business. How do these Snapchat sunglasses work!
Snapchat Spectacles are video-recording-enabled sunglasses debuted by Snap,inc exclusively for use with Snapchat. They retail for $130 and are only sold at Snapchat vending machines.
My username is lintacious, follow me!
Yes I love technology.
Every year I re-watch some of my favorite Christmas & holiday-themed movies in the month of December. Thankfully, many of these are available on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime so everyone can enjoy them!
I added a winter movie on this list, The Cutting Edge, currently streaming on Hulu. It is not specifically Christmas themed, although there is a Christmas scene. But it is about ice skating (and hockey!) and I watch it every winter. I’ve shared this favorite movie of mine with lots of friends over the years and everyone has enjoyed it. I’m happy to see it finally streaming.
Also included in the lists are both versions of Miracle on 34th Street. I don’t mind the remake, honestly, so I recommend giving them both a watch.
There are many more Christmas-themed movies available streaming but I’ve narrowed down the list below to ones I regularly enjoy year over year. Also, some of them are really really bad. I promise only good ones below.
I hope everyone can get into the holiday spirit this month and enjoy watching some Christmas movie favorites!
Updated 12/25/2016 to add The Santa Clause (Netflix).
as of 12/25/2016
Scott Adams is the creator of the comic Dilbert. As a successful entrepreneur, he wrote this memoir/business/self-help book to provide examples of life strategies that might help others. The book starts out strong with helpful advice about business strategy. The ending becomes preachy as he turns to habits & lifestyles. Leslie Rating: 2/5
I initially enjoyed reading How To Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams. The best piece of advice from him is to use systems not goals. This is exactly how I’ve been looking at life for the past few years. Goals are for losers. You need to have systems. Without a system in place, you will fall back into the old routine. He is definitely on point there.
Adams also has a lot of optimism and focus. I like the idea of a forward focus. Being optimistic means learning from failures rather than becoming stagnant from them. His attitude is upbeat and the book starts out as an enjoyable read. The beginning of the book is very memoir so it is interesting to learn about someone else. However, from there the book is just him telling us how to live our lives.
Moving into business, the tone definitely changes and he starts to sound a little bit like an asshole. His business strategy is to always be an entrepreneur and sell a product, never selling his own time. He makes it clear that his comics are a business; he is not an artist. So if he will earn more money by changing something in the comic, he does not have the limitation of artistic integrity. This is a product so it must be designed for those willing to buy it. It also is simple so it can be easily recreated and mass produced. That way he is making the most money in the least amount of time. This is likely the type of attitude it takes to be really rich (and Adams is really rich, really really rich, and he won’t let you forget that fact).
From Business advice, he turns to straight-up life advice. This is the asshole bit. Because these things worked for him, he is certain they are key to everyone’s success. Yes, it is that preachy and self righteous. He states that this might not work for everyone but his attitude is clearly that it will. This section also has a Dale Carnegie feel to it. Which is no surprise because one of his Life Tips is to learn how to manipulate others. Sure, you’ll get other people to like you. And I guess when you’re asking people for money in the business world that is important. But it just feels so icky to me. (Clearly I am not cut out for the business world).
Another of his Life Tips is to drink coffee for the energy boost. Yes, that is a pro-tip. He also has a huge section on Daily Affirmations. But the whole idea is such a joke I’m ignoring it.
The few takeaways the book has can be found in other places. The rest of the book has a know-it-all tone that does not seem helpful. The more I thought of the book after, the less I liked it. I give it a 2/5 because the information is nothing new and his explanation of it is unnecessarily condescending.
Shipwrecked NYC is an indoor miniature golf course located in Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY. Featuring a storyline, prop design, and a hill course, this mini golf experience is perfect for kids and adults.
Theater majors should always make miniature golf courses if this will be the end result.
I was at first skeptical of an indoor mini golf course. Mini golf is about waterfalls and being outside in the sweltering heat with zero shade and being able to laugh at all the other golfers and kids crying and mosquitoes that you can swat at with the club. Wouldn’t indoor mini golf lose all that? Well, yes. And in exchange we get an interactive adventure with a story and a plot and scenes! What a way to golf!
Think of this as a very small-scale children’s version of something like Sleep No More. As you golf, you are immersed into a story of a fellow pirate who sunk his ship while looking for treasure. On your golf-pirate-adventure journey, you travel underwater, then trek through a jungle, get lost in some caves, and finally find treasure. It is designed for both kids and adults because there are a lot of puns and dad jokes. We went as two adults and had a blast.
This is a traditional hills miniature golf course. The owners of Shipwrecked NYC bought a mini golf course in Maryland that was being torn down. They purchased everything then relocated all the holes to Brooklyn. The course is easy but still fun. You are definitely not losing anything with the added indoor experience.
I can’t find it now, but while reading up about the course and it’s owners, I found a fascinating interview with them. In it, they said that they just want to make people “smile, laugh, and have fun”. Shipwrecked NYC definitely accomplishes all of that!
The four areas I describe above are designed as scenes. Each scene (underwater, jungle, caves, treasure) is in a separate room with four miniature golf holes set up.
The golfing part is traditional and fun. Everything is about a par 2-3. The rooms themselves are extremely immersive since they are all separate. Because the experience includes a story, the golf course is closed off from the main lobby. Where in traditional outdoors mini golf, you can see everyone on the course, here you can’t. We always had every room to ourselves. Not because it wasn’t busy, but because that boosted the experience. At 1pm on a Saturday we waited about 15-minutes to start. Not being able to see the course before starting also really adds to the excitement.
The story portion of Shipwrecked NYC is entirely optional and is at an extra charge. To hear the story features along the course, it is an extra $5 per game. This comes in the form of tokens ($1/token). You enter a token into certain set pieces along the course and get to hear more of the story. You have to do this! (figuratively, not literally). I cannot imagine going through this the first time without the story!
You can take the F/G train and walk, or the B61 and walk, or take a car service (a cheap ride from most surrounding neighborhoods), or bike (a short ride from most areas in BK). It is located on Court St next to a lot of warehouses, apartment buildings, and an auto shop. Don’t worry, you’re in the right place. There is a sign out front though it might be hard to miss if you’re in a car or on a bike.
You will walk into what looks like a normal apartment building (and it is) where you have to take the elevator up to the second floor. There are signs all along the way pointing you in the direction of Pirate Adventure! There is an entrance area with lockers and I saw some scooters & strollers parked there. You might be able to leave your bike there, I’m not sure (there are not bike racks out front of the building).
While you’re in Red Hook, don’t forget to get a key lime pie and check out the pier!
Just a note, they sell some snacks and sodas but currently not alcohol.
Shipwrecked NYC Details
Address: 621 Court St. , 2nd Fl. Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY
Hours: Mon-Thurs Noon-9pm; Fri noon-11pm; Sat 11am-11pm; Sun 11am-9pm
Price: Adults $14; Kids $10
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel is a contemporary sci-fi novel that interweaves the possibility of alien life with current International politics. It is Book 1 of the “Themis Files”, which means this book has a non-ending and empty characters. The story line is still very strong. Leslie Rating: 4/5.
As I read this book, I loved it. And immediately afterward, I loved it. But within a short period of time, I’ve thought more about the book’s flaws. The core problem I see, which causes a lot of smaller problems, is this is the first book in the eventual series “Themis Files.” Because this novel was written with a series in mind, the characters are shallow & boring. We learn about the characters in a form of “tell” not “show”. We don’t learn about them, we are told about them. For the most part, I was able to ignore this. There is also a cliche love triangle which I also was able to tune out. At least it is used as a vital plot device. But since the characters have zero depth, they also have zero chemistry with each other. I’m sure it will become a focus later on in the series and I have no interest in that.
Let’s get back to the good stuff! The story is really imaginative and unique. I enjoyed it being the sci-fi aspect of alien life forms. Combined with the contemporary aspect of politics. The question as it is presented in the book is, if parts of an alien weapon are found all over the world, who owns the weapon once it’s together? Who provides the funding? Where is the project located? I found all those questions fascinating.
Since this is first in a series, this book has a non ending which is disappointing. I mean, it answers all my questions. But never fully tells the reader what it is they found. The alien robot weapon really is the best part of the book. I wish Neuvel spent longer finding parts and building the robot weapon. Instead, it happens pretty quickly which is why I mention it here. It’s not a spoiler. I was expecting that to be the big reveal at the end. Instead it was pretty rushed.
The more I think about it the less I enjoyed the book. But I absolutely loved it while reading so maybe that is the important part. I am still going to give it a 4/5 because the writing of plot is on point and it is an original sci-fi story.
Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee is a historical fiction novel set in 1800’s Europe telling the life of an opera singer and her journey to high society. Leslie Rating: 3/5
Originally, I heard about this novel via a book podcast that I no longer subscribe to. Including this one, their recommendations have been duds for me, personally. The plot was described as something far more interesting than it actually is. However, I did not know that when I picked this up from the library.
The day I began The Queen of the Night, I was reading it outside on my lunch break. A man walked by and in passing said, I just read that book and I really recommend it. It was rather long but a good book. I thanked him for his recommendation. Skipping to the end of the book, I took notice of the 550 page count but didn’t think anything particularly lengthy about it. After finishing the story, I now realize he meant ‘long’ figuratively. Because the story definitely went on for about 100-pages too many.
The first 300 pages were rather captivating. The story begins at the end, where we learn a very popular opera singer is asked to play a role in an opera being written specifically for her. I know nothing about opera but apparently this is a really big deal. As the story is being described to her, she realizes it is based on her own life, which was supposed to be a mystery.
Then the book goes back in time and we learn about her life history. This is a typical rags-to-riches story except interwoven with a historical timeline. The middle of the story is when the Franco-Prussian war hits. In what should be interesting, these parts were definitely a slog. Chee’s writing style is exceptional when writing a character-driven story. When writing a scene-based story, he struggles. Writing about the streets of Paris when there are bombings, dead bodies, and rivers of blood had never felt so boring and forced. Chee’s method of writing is “tell” rather than “show”. There was little emotion when describing these war scenes. And they did little to drive the plot or add depth to the main character. You can easily skim through the middle and not miss anything.
Once that part is over, we are brought back to the Soprano’s life story and Chee finds his writing niche again. The story moves rather suddenly at the end but does wrap up nicely. I found the story overall enjoyable. It probably would be more enjoyable if I knew anything about Opera. Or about that period in history.
This is very much a character-driven historical fiction story. Chee’s writing is on point for most of the book. I am interested to see where he goes from here. I did not (and probably will not) read his previous work. Overall, I did enjoy Queen of the Night and am giving it a 3 out of 5 rating.
If you live in NYC and still haven’t made it out to the Rockaways, I highly recommend it. The beaches are beautiful and there is lots of access to the ocean. Plus, it is all free. Rockaway Beach is in the outskirts of Queens so getting there can be a trek. But thankfully the MTA does have train service directly to the beach access points. And that’s all included with a swipe of the metrocard!
The beaches have gained popularity since Hurricane Sandy wiped out all of the boardwalk and almost everything there. Some growth in food pop-ups and for-pay buses that go directly to Jacob Riis State Park have helped bring new visitors to the Rockaways. Thankfully, the MTA has noticed this too and increased train service as of June 2016.
According to the MTA, Rockaway Park Shuttle service has been extended to reach both A trains at Rockaway Blvd.
Old Way (pre-2016): Take a Far Rockaway bound A train to Broad Channel and transfer to the Rockaway Park Shuttle (S) train.
New Way (as of June 2016): Take either a Far Rockaway or Lefferts Blvd A train to Rockaway Blvd and transfer to the Rockaway Park Shuttle (S) train.
It is still a same platform transfer from the S to the A. The Shuttle extension to Rockaway Blvd is on weekends only until at least labor day. It is making regular A stops between Rockaway Blvd and Broad Channel. If you find yourself on a Far Rockaway train, you can still stay on it and transfer at Broad Channel if you’d prefer.
On their site, the MTA alluded to keeping the extra shuttle service on after Labor Day. Hopefully it will continue while all the NYC public beaches are still open. Remember, the water finally warms up in August so late summer is the perfect time for a beach trip.
Once you’re on the Shuttle, the rest of the trip is the same. From Broad Channel onwards all stops have direct beach access. You will be about two blocks away from the beach. And the ocean will be visible from the train platform. There are several different parts of the beaches here. I am mostly familiar with the beach access around Beach 105th st. I haven’t been to Riis Park Beach in several years.
Swimming/Sunbathing: The Shuttle train will take you from Beach 90th st to Beach 116th st. There is now a boardwalk for most of this. There are some food places. There are public bathrooms. The beach is nice for sunbathing, playing, generally relaxing. And the water is great for swimming.
Surfing/Hanging Out: The Far Rockaway A train will take you from Beach 67th st to Far Rockaway/Mott Ave. I have never been down this way so I do not have first-hand experience. There are more food & drink options here. And this part of the beach is great for surfing. I’ve heard good things about taking surf lessons here as well.
Riis Beach: The Riis Park Beach is accessible by bus & car only. The Q35 stops here. And there are lots of pay options now for bus services that go directly from neighborhoods in Brooklyn to this beach. There is a Beach Bazaar now too. There are definitely more food/drink options than when I was there a while back. There is also a part of the beach that is very lgbtq-friendly.
Since grade school I’ve wanted to change my name. My last name was not a family name but my mom’s last name out of marriage. It was a name that had no meaning to me. Then my first name, was actually a hyphenation of two names. It was really long. Later on, they hyphen symbol became an issue with computers, credit cards, and IDs. Having two first names, plus a middle name, is a lot for one person.
Once away from high school bullies, I really grew to love my first name. Well, the first part of it at least. I never used the second half except in legal dealings. Most people even now didn’t know I had a hyphenated name.
The first part of my first name was then, and is now the entirety of my first name, is Leslie. I am quite proud that my namesake is my grandfather. The original hyphenation was my mother’s way to feminize her father’s name. Leslie is still commonly used as a unisex name today. Have you ever met a Les? He was probably a Leslie.
Starting in high school, I had the thought of changing my last name to my dad’s last name, O’Connor. Whenever I looked into legally changing my name, I was immediately discouraged by hearing that it was expensive, required a lawyer, or I was too young and would regret it. And so I waited until I was 33.
It’s been officially one year since the paperwork has been signed. Perhaps I could have continued going by my nickname and never using my last name. Although I do enjoy the moniker Leslie Beslie, part of me felt silly handing out business cards with the name.
When my father passed away in 2014, I waited a year then went with my gut and finally, legally, took his last name. I figured that while I was changing my last name, I might as well change my first name too. Mainly to remove the hyphenated appended portion.
One of the biggest issues after changing my name was telling people. I understand it is rather rare to change your name without getting married. And that is the number one assumption. So, when asked, I would respond with, “No, I did not get married but I appreciate your optimism.”
My official work announcement was, “I recently changed my name to a family name for personal reasons.” My more personal announcement was, “My dad passed away last year so I wanted to take his name to have his memory with me.” No one in legal departments asked for a reason.
I tried to make the announcement at work as soon as possible to thwart the “Did you get married?” questions. But I was still bombarded by them. (Especially that conference call when I asked does anyone have any questions about this project? and someone, being light-hearted, asked what was with the name change is a congratulations in order and I had to awkwardly laugh then say No and I couldn’t end that call fast enough.)
The actual steps I took to legally change my name in New York State are below. The court-house process was quicker than I expected. Once the newspaper announcement had been published, I could then legally go by the new name. It didn’t feel official to me until I received my new Social Security Card and my new driver’s license.
The name change process varies a lot state by state. This is specific to New York State. And my court house dealings are specific to King’s County, Brooklyn, NYC.
If you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ve known for a while that I am now, officially legally, Leslie O’Connor. After a year, I have fully embraced this name. For the first time, I feel like me. I feel comfortable having a name that matches who I am.
I changed my first and last name, leaving the middle name the same. Thankfully I did not need a lawyer for any of this. I completed a form online that was pretty standard but did require I give a reason for wanting to change my name. No proof was required that these reasons were valid. I was changing my name to serious names, nothing silly. There is a fee to file a name change in New York state which came to roughly $200 (cash only at the courthouse).
I then brought this form, a copy of my driver’s license, and a copy of my social security card to the County Clerk’s office at the King’s County Courthouse. (This is the same court house you will likely go to for Jury Duty. The County Clerk’s office is in the basement.)
A person there took everything, stamped a few things, stapled a few things, then gave me everything back and told me to go upstairs to submit to the judge. A New York judge has to approve all name changes in the state. This is to ensure that you’re not changing your name for malicious reasons; like avoiding paying debts or running from a warrant. I submitted all the paperwork plus my original birth certificate to the judge’s office. Three weeks later I went back to the judge’s office to pick up my approved name change letter.
Note: I filed for a public name change. You can file for a private name change, which will not be on public record or published in the newspaper. You will probably want to use a lawyer for this. (An example of a need to file privately is when victims of domestic violence are trying to leave their abusive partner.)
All public name changes in New York state are mandated to be announced in a newspaper. Information about which newspaper to use was included in the letter from the judge. I contacted the newspaper via email, then sent them a pdf of my name change (the file was provided by the courts in their system), with some personal information. It cost $130 to have this published.
They have a “legal notices” section in the paper, so they published it the following week. The announcement was only included in the paper copy, not their online version. I then went to the newspaper to pick up the clipping they provided, which proved it was publicly announced. The newspaper that was recommended to me was directly across from the court house, which really made this part quite easy.
I went back to the County Clerk’s office with the newspaper announcement. They notarized my name change. And it was then, finally, legal. I could legally use my new name!
I took my notarized name change document to the Social Security office, along with a form I filled out there, and applied for a new social security card. I did not have to provide any form of ID to prove it was me. This was free.
I took my new social security card and name change document to the DMV to apply for a new NY license. This cost $14.
Everything else is tedious but I’m handling it as it comes. Work was super easy as my HR department changed everything in payroll, health insurance, and my 401K. Credit cards and bank accounts are annoying but fine. I’ve noticed that it is much easier to change your name with companies due to marriage rather than a legal name change for other reasons. I sent my landlord a copy of the court order but did not have to re-sign the lease.
Filing Application: $200
Newspaper Announcement: $130
The name change process was easier than I expected but it varies greatly by state. Be sure to look up your specific state requirements before starting the process.
Metlife is an insurance company that also deals with life insurance policies. For beneficiaries, they offer a Total Control Account (TCA). This is a draft account to hold your policy pay out for you “while you go through this difficult time.”
To be clear, the Metlife TCA is not a bank account; it is not a checking account; it is not a savings account. It is not FDIC-insured; it may or may not offer a competitive savings rate; your funds are not as easily accessible as Metlife would like you to believe. Metlife is earning more on the interest of your money than you are.
Money is complicated because a lot of times it is tied to emotions. Death is also complicated and emotional. Unfortunately, the two often meet at a time in our lives when the last thing we want to think about is money. When a loved one dies, there are suddenly a lot of questions that you are expected to answer on the spot. These are things that we have done zero research on. And due to natural circumstances, there isn’t time to shop around. Also, when a loved one dies, your brain turns to mush and stops working. When it comes to these questions, you say a lot of, “I don’t care” and “What do you think?” because you can’t think about anything else other than missing this person who is now gone forever. Nothing will bring this person back so why bother thinking about it. Unfortunately, people and businesses know they can take advantage of this.
When my father died in 2014, all he left was a savings account with a small amount of money in it. Once the death certificate was processed, the bank mailed me check. Easy peasy. When my mother died in 2015, she left a life insurance policy where I was one of the beneficiaries. I didn’t realize this until I received a letter in the mail from Metlife about six months after her death. The letter included a beneficiary claims form that had to be completed. It was fairly straightforward and mainly asked identification questions. I did not need to attach a copy of the death certificate. I was not aware of this policy or that I would be a beneficiary, so all of this was a surprise. Also, receiving this six-months after the death brought up a lot of emotions again. So be prepared for that.
On the form, they ask how you would like to receive the policy benefits. Your options are: 1) Lump sum, or 2) Total Control Account (TCA).
Although a lump sum may sound overwhelming, beneficiary payouts aren’t (usually) taxed, so that is one less financial aspect to have to worry about.
The payout amount was not included on the form and I doubted they would tell me over the phone. With my two options, I decided to see what a Total Control Account is just in case it is the better option. From the get go I was planning on going with Lump Sum.
It was difficult to find any non-biased information on the Metlife Total Control Account, which is why I wanted to write about it. There are criticisms of it. In 2010, the company was taken to court because the account was then named Total Control Money Market Account. They were sued over the misleading “Money Market” name, where people were led to believe that it was a bank account when it’s not. The only positive information I could find was from Metlife itself.
I am being fairly objective here but, honestly, I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep large sums of money in a non-FDIC insured bank account.
Here’s a breakdown of the account. It is a draft account. I want to make it clear that this is not a saving account and not a checking account. To withdrawal funds, you are given a draft book from Metlife. They call it a checkbook, and call the papers checks, but it is actually a draft book and you are making drafts. You cannot deposit any money into the account, only withdrawal. In order to withdrawal your money, you have to write a draft to yourself then go to a bank (or check cashing facility) and cash it. However, there is a minimum withdrawal of $250.
These are not checks. You can’t write one to the grocery store, or the funeral home. You can only withdrawal your money when you have access to a place that can cash checks. This may require some planning and should never be used as an emergency fund.
On the plus side, you can write a draft to yourself for the full amount of your account, which will automatically close the account. Or you can save yourself all this headache and just take the Lump Sum.
What about interest rates? The Metlife TCA is insured by Metlife but not by the FDIC, as is the case with most bank accounts. According to Metlife, their interest rates are “competitive”. They state that some of their Metlife TCA accounts are earning 3% interest, though it is more likely you will earn less than one percent.
Of course Metlife earns interest on your money, too. Since they are the ones holding it. Seven years ago, Metlife made $10 Million in investment earnings on these accounts.
My main caveat with the Metlife TCA is it feels deceiving. Metlife’s literature claims that they are doing you a favor by offering you this account. They take the decisions off your hands during this emotional time so you have one less thing to worry about. You can keep your money in their Metlife TCA and worry about it later. Though, honestly, I’m not sure how that’s any easier than receiving the lump sum and immediately depositing it into your bank account to worry about it later.
Another issue with the account is, despite the catchy name, you really don’t have any control over your money. It is difficult to access and you aren’t choosing the best place for your money. By receiving the lump sum instead, you can choose to put it in a high interest savings account, a CD, or another type of investment. Again, you don’t have to do that right this second. This is an emotional decision. It is an emotional time. But if you have these benefits in one of your bank accounts, rather than a draft account, you have more options open to you down the road.
Remember, Metlife is an insurance company, not a bank.
If you are dealing with this currently, I am sorry you are going through this. Take your time with the decisions you can and don’t rush into anything. If you are not dealing with this right now, inevitably, you will. Learning about these issues will help you make smarter decisions in the unfortunate time that you will have to.
The shoreline of Manhattan is a 32-mile walk taking at least 12 hours at a 3mph pace. Every year the Shorewalkers organization puts on the Great Saunter, which is exactly that. If you register for the walk, it is $20 which gets you a bib number and their official map. There is some support of gatorade along the walk. At the lunch stop in Inwood Park they provide some chips, gatorade, and moleskine bandages.
Don’t let the word “saunter” fool you. This is no easy walk. It is an intense physical and mental challenge to walk the distance of an ultra marathon. It is a task for the physically fit who are willing to push themselves and suffer for an accomplishment. It’s not “just” a walk and you can seriously injure yourself by moving steadily for 12-hours straight.
It requires preparation. Not necessarily training but you definitely need the right clothing, strategy, and most of all supportive shoes. Hiking boots or newer running sneakers will work. Dry wicking socks are a must. Layers. Snacks. Extra socks. Water. Salt. Sugar. I can’t stress enough how this is a pretty serious walk.
With all the said, it’s a really fun experience. I walked it last year under much more favorable conditions. We can’t predict the weather. While last year was a high of 66, this year was a high of 60. That’s a pretty big difference for being outside all day. It also was rainy and overcast most of the time.
In the late afternoon the sun peeked out and that helped. Mood-wise there seemed to be a big difference between the two experiences. When it was warm and sunny, of course we were in greater spirits. I’m not sure I will do the walk again but I will factor in the weather next time. For runs, I’d never think about skipping because of rain. But running in gloomy weather for 2 hours isn’t nearly as bad as walking in it for over 12. Last year we started at 7:30am and ended right at 7:30pm. This year it took us an hour longer. That’s how it goes!
Changing my socks and using body glide on my feet was a life saver. If I do this again, I’ll bring two extras because putting on fresh socks made a huge difference! We still stopped to stretch a lot. I brought more snacks than last time, and it still wasn’t enough. I was hungry the same whole time until the last 3 miles when my stomach started feeling upset. That usually happens to me after intense physical activity.
I have the background of being a distance runner so take this with a grain of salt. Being able to ignore the pain, something I’ve learned from running, was extremely helpful. I was decked out in running gear including sneakers. I saw some people in hiking boots but for cement walking I prefer sneakers. I had dry wicking socks, compression sleeves on my legs, running pants, a flipbelt to stash snacks in; then 3 layers of shirts including a tank top, long-sleeve shirt, and running hoodie for more pockets and warmth. We all wore baseball caps, which I also recommend to be prepared for good (sunshine) and bad (rain) weather.
I may not do the full walk again but I would do just the first half. I felt “fine” (considering) at the halfway point of 16-miles. This is in Inwood where we eat lunch. There’s a subway station right there too. And that distance is still nothing to laugh at. Even “just” walking. Plus the West side is a much nicer walk the the east.
I didn’t really start to feel it until about mile 21. That was when my energy level really started sinking. My muscles started tightening up, especially my hip. The pain kind of sustained from this point, never feeling worse or anything. But I kept feeling more and more tired. Even after finishing. A friend of mine (brilliant illustrator Nikki DeSautelle) felt hyped up after finishing the walk. But I just wanted to lay in a horizontal position for a long time. I did take the train and still walked home from the station.
My recovery, and you do have to recover for this, was taking a warm bath & shower. Drinking lots and lots of liquid (gatorade, water, ginger ale for my stomach, and tea for something warm). Then elevating my feet – I slept like that too. If you have a stick or foam roller, that will help a lot.
The walk is beautiful and I recommend it as an experience. If you are new to the city or don’t get to the upper parts of Manhattan much, it is a wonderful way to see all the neighborhoods. The scenery changes on a dime and more than anything the walk helps relight my love for New York City. When I was going through a tough time my first year here, I wish I had participated in The Great Saunter. Seeing so much of the city all at once, while also having time to think, meditate, and still be able to talk to others when needed is truly a unique experience that might have sped up my falling in love with the city.