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Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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Refreshing Old Ways: Sharing the Path

Those of us who remember our Beowolf readings from high school English class merrily purchased our first cup of mead at Renaissance Festivals and were rewarded with a sweet drink. Perhaps we were young and that was palatable. But  it was the last time I drank mead until I moved to Oregon’s Willamette Valley about three and a half years ago.

Living in the middle of wine country is a joy in many ways. Not only does it offer a lot in terms of oenophile enjoyment, but the countryside is beautiful.  And twice a year (Thanksgiving weekend and Memorial Day weekend) almost all the wineries open their doors, even if they normally do not have tasting rooms. It was our first Thanksgiving weekend here and avoiding a popular location with the Portland crowd, we headed up Highway 47 north of McMinnville. When we got to Yamhill we stopped, on a whim, at a meadery at Kookoolan Farms.
Yamhill Oregon Local Farm

Chrissie Manion Zaerpoor and her husband Koorosh met as engineers for Intel and purchased a  farm in Yamhill. Kookoolan Farms has evolved over time to work with other nearby farms to offer vegetables and meat to consumers throughout the region and its reputation for quality is well known. To find out more about the farm and all they do check out their website and their Facebook page.

Like me, Chrissie remembered her Beowolf and started making mead from local honey.  She perfected her craft, moving well beyond the sticky sweet stuff so many of us experienced at those Ren Fairs. In her quest, she started gathering mead from other places in the United States and from around the world. This is when I met her. We visited her mead tasting room and was amazed at the variety of tastes offered.

And why not, when you really think about it. Beer, which has the same basic components, has amazing variety. Wine, of course, varies not only by the type of grape but, as I have learned first hand, by the weather, the terroir, and the skill of the winemaker.  Why not discover the same breadth and depth with mead?

Mead has been enjoyed by people for thousands and thousands of years. It seemed to be found often in monasteries which produced honey for the beeswax to make candles. The mead was a fortunate byproduct of that task.  Today, home brewing shops throughout the country can attest to an upsurge in interest and currently there are over 400 commercially licensed meaderies in 46 states, up from 30 in 1997!  Mead is considered to be the fastest growing beverage business.

Many meaderies, like Kookoolan, are very small with only a limited and local distribution. However, there are many that have larger production and a number of bottle shops are expanding into offering a wider selection.

As interest grows, so do the number of books available on the subject. So far, however, most recent books about mead have been in the “how to” genre. Home brewing is highly popular and there are plenty of tips and lessons available to ease the learning curve.

However, as mead started becoming more popular, Chrissie realized there was something missing. Her clues came from the visitors to the tasting room. Not only “Where can I find mead besides your tasting room?” but “What would be a good dish to pair with this mead?”

She realized she had a definite advantage over just about everyone else in the field. When she went to make her lunch in her kitchen, it was fun to grab a small pour, or two or three in the adjacent tasting room and see what tasted good with the dish she had prepared for her meal. As she kept her notes, the light bulb started to burn brightly and the book concept was born.

The Art of Mead Tasting and Food Pairing (ISBN 978-0-578-18895-9) took three years to produce.  It is a joy to read…and even better to work through by cooking and tasting. Chrissie has not only explained the various kinds of meads that are available, but offered well tested recipes to pair with the various kinds.  Imagine, if you will, you have a pretty terrific chicken pot pie you have made, either from your own recipe or the one in the book.  You might be tempted to pair it with a white wine for supper, but your enjoyment can be enhanced with the right kind of mead pairing.

From spicy (check out the shrimp gumbo!) to sweet there is something in here for every palate. 

The books is also divided into regions of the world, as mead is produced everywhere there is honey. One photograph really caught my eye; it showed an archaeological find at Tel Rehov, Israel with a multitude of preserved hives. This discovery proves that ancient civilizations, this one dating back to 900 CE, had a great appreciation for bees, honey and its byproducts.

The book explains mead history as part of the Paleo world, in Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean region, northern Europe, eastern Europe, the Middle East, and in Latin America. Recipes and pairing suggestions are offered to get your exploration rolling.

And through it all, gorgeous photography. Even a simple photo of the collection of meads Chrissie obtained from meaderies around the world in the research for this book is beautiful, even as it began to overtake the floor space in their dining room.

My hope is in your own life adventures you make room for new challenges.  Part of exploration may be of new places, but some new learning may take place in the known and safe nest of your own. Open your willingness to try not only new foods, but new  beverages too. Perhaps this concept of mead pairings will get you thinking and not only check out the book, but start checking out the shelves in a local bottle shop. At a recent visit to a local grocery store yesterday I found this.

 

 

and now I get to figure out what food will go well with it. Ahhhh, time to reread the book!
15713 Highway 47, Yamhill, Oregon 97148                                                                                                                                                                                                                             503-730-7535   kookoolan@gmail.com

 


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Coming to a television screen near you…..

My parents restricted our television watching when I was young. I learned to tell time before kindergarten so I could turn on my program (Romper Room) at 11:30.  I still rarely watch TV and have been thinking we can let the cable access go without a problem. I watched only a few things in the past year and most of that was accessible online.

However, I know a lot of people have the television on just about all day. It’s background noise to some.  For many, it is the focus of their activity. Perhaps, in time, it will be also for me. My mother-in-law, essentially bedridden in her last few years because of COPD, had no cable but still could watch local programs. She had public television on all day. Or at least when her local sports team was not being televised. The television brings the world to a lot of people, especially if they do not get out into the world.

Back in 2000 I heard people talking about a new tv program, Survivor. They were excited about what the contestants of this reality show had to do. I actually watched one show; I think they had to eat bugs. It was an interesting concept but, to me, not worth the time. I had a six-year-old and my husband was dying of brain cancer. It was more important to me to spend time with them than spend an hour glued to what really seemed like the idiot box.

We were living in Huntington, West Virginia in 2010 when British chef Jamie Oliver came to town to get people to change their bad eating habits. Part of the show was filmed at my son’s high school and he came home often with descriptions of what REALLY went on before the cameras started to roll. In addition, I spoke with one of the guys who was on the track team and had participated in the reality show.  He described an incident where he informed an associate producer that he had a conflict and was told to tell Oliver. As he started to explain to the chef, Oliver stuck his fingers in his ears and started singing “I can’t hear you.” Later, when the episode aired it showed Oliver having a fit because this guy had not had the courtesy to inform him that he would not be there.

So, it was very apparent to me that reality television shows are NOT about reality, but are staged as much as any scripted show. And it also became apparent to me that people watched these shows because they enjoyed seeing people lose. The excitement of the show very much included the idea that someone who is inferior would be kicked out. If the watcher voted for someone who got to stay, they “won.”  This set people up, over all these years, into a me versus the rest of them attitude.

Needless to say I had no interest in watching the Apprentice. I grew up in the New York City area and knew about Donald Trump’s ways to take advantage of people to get what he wanted. I did not need to give up my time watching him belittle people.  However, it was a popular show. And many people voted for Trump based on that TV persona. They did not realize it was fake. So, by accepting it as reality, guess what happened?

Now now we have a new reality.

  • The head of the EPA went on national TV and said carbon dioxide doesn’t drive climate change.  This is a complete reversal of past EPA policy and a total rejection of all credible science and facts. This isn’t a joke — It’s the first step to killing all programs to combat climate change. Ask yourself WHY.
  • We have escalating fear that a transgender person will attack young girls in public restrooms although no such incident has happened.  At the same time, young white men are getting slaps on the wrists for raping and sexually assaulting women, even when they are unconscious. Ask yourself WHY.
  • A member of the Congressional committee discussing the new healthcare plan does not want men to have to pay for pre-natal health care. Perhaps he is merely unaware how costs go down when the pool includes people who do NOT use a service, or maybe he sees no reason for women to have health care costs as low as men. Ask yourself WHY.
  • The populations of more and more states are voting for legalized medical and recreational use of marijuana but the federal government is adamant that the risk to public health is equivalent to drugs like crack, meth, and heroin. So, the legal businesses have restriction from federal banks and the government can continue to slap people into prison for sentences that are often longer than crimes against people. Ask yourself WHY.
  • While 17 intelligence agencies say they have proof that Trump and his cohort had dealings with members of the Russian oligarchy, no one in Congress is willing to start an investigation but those same Senators pounced all over the mismanagement of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Ask yourself WHY.
  • People throughout the country clamor that illegal aliens have stolen jobs from native born Americans and support the deportation of all people who entered the country illegally.  Farmers growing produce, restaurants, and the construction industry welcome people wanting jobs to come forward. Ask yourself WHY.
  • Trump promises a YUGE wall to protect us from bad hombres and also promises that he will get Mexico to pay for it. As the plans unfold, it appears that not only will we the people be paying for it with a surcharge on Mexican products but it is apparent that Trump’s plan to reduce the funding for the Coast Guard will offer a new door of entry to anyone wanting to come to stay. Ask yourself WHY.
  • Discussion about infrastructure construction includes giving the work to private companies who will get reimbursed by we the people with tolls on rebuilt highways and bridges. Ask yourself WHY.
  • And finally, because this list COULD go on and on….The new healthcare plan will be lowering costs not for we the people but for the government. The rest of us will have the option to pay more than we can afford for services unknown at this time, or die. Simple choice. Ask yourself WHY.

And the people are beginning to make some noise. Congressional town hall meetings in their home districts are having massive attendance. Some are calm  as people ask questions and the Representative or Senator responds. Many districts, however, are not being visited or their meetings are cut short because the Congressional Rep or Senator can not  adequately show that s/he is actually listening to his or her constituents.

But the majority of the people remain silent. Can you explain to me why?

One reader said I am asking too much of people to expect them to comment. Okay, here goes: don’t comment to me.  Get involved. Turn off the television and go out into your community. Get involved. Only by your actions will you be known.

If not you, who? If not now, when?

 

 

 


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Why Argue Instead of Doing Research?

Time and again we see hints that many people have lost….or perhaps never developed….critical thinking skills. We can blame schools or families, but once a person reaches adulthood, the choice is theirs.

If you don’t know how to cook, watch some cooking videos or read a cookbook. If you don’t know how to put together that IKEA desk, go to Youtube. If you don’t know how to research something, there are plenty of instructions available.

Yes, it is easier to learn something when you are young. But if you want to improve the way you present yourself to the world, you can learn new tricks. Unless you prefer to be stuck in place.

Example: one of my friends on Facebook has a family member who often joins in the conversation. I have been warned time and again not to bother interacting with him; that he is a troll. However, I come from a long line of do-gooders and I am pretty stubborn. I think almost anyone is redeemable…..if they show willingness to learn.

The thread got into Trump’s promise to bring back coal. No one contributing to the conversation had lived in West Virginia but since I had, and because I had had a meaningful conversation about coal with a mining engineer at one of my son’s cross country meets, I shared that exchange.

The information I shared is easily verified by countless articles posted to the Internet. However, the troll chose to tell me what I said was hearsay and he would just wait and see what Trump does to help the coal miners.

The legal definition of heresay fits, but the common definition does not. scan_20170303

Since we were not in court, why the hesitation to accept what I offered?  It took me less than 3 minutes to find and read an article from a reliable source about the causes of the decline in the coal industry in West Virginia.

He either had no interest in agreeing with anything anyone says or he has no desire to do research.

Either he enjoys his role of being a dissenter in the context of the Facebook discussion or he is unable to learn anything new.

He is only one of many many people who exhibit similar behavior.  Think of your own habits. Do you agree or disagree with something based on the information presented or do you bother to take a few minutes to research independently?

I consider my time on Facebook to be “free time”. In other words, I CAN step away from the conversation to actually verify facts. This is not work. This is not something that is particularly time sensitive.

But what you say and do is your face to the world. Why be a troll?

From Wikipedia: In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtrl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community  with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional responseor of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion, often for the troll’s amusement.troll-stupid
If a person chooses this behavior willingly, he certainly is not worth my effort to “teach”.


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Okay…So Now I Know

Have you ever wondered how you are going to die?

Back in the late 1960s my father’s sister developed breast cancer. If you are old enough, you probably remember that cancer was so horrific with few cures in those days that most people never said the word. It was the Big C. If it was uttered, it was in a whisper. Watching her decline, I assumed I would get breast cancer.

My mom and all her side of the family died from issues related to heart disease. No doubt in my mind that I have a genetic disposition for that.

I am not a morbid person. This is not anything that fills my waking hours with dread. I am not afraid of dying; I just have a lot of living yet to do, so I don’t want to go before my time. But recently, very recently, I have been staring at a new death option.  And it makes me angry.

With the threats/promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Republicans in our lives have also threatened and promised to kill 20 to 30 million people in this nation. We, the ones with the death sentences, are your neighbors and your family members.

Why will we die?  In my case, I  will suffocate.  I have chronic asthma. It is well maintained with two medicines that currently cost me $100 a month. Their out of pocket cost, without insurance, is close to $1000 a month. Guess what? I can’t afford that.

So, very simply, if Congress in their infinite wisdom think it is more important to destroy the law because it was implemented by Obama, instead of fixing it (good luck with that if you want to keep the insurance companies in charge, but that’s another story and blog) I will die.

So now the question is, will you also die?  Will people you know, people you love, also be murdered by Republicans?  aca-congressional-district

That sounds harsh, but think about it. There are two components in the ACA that help people.  First,  the insurance premium (set by the insurance companies, not the ACA) is reduced based on income. This is part of the benefit that will be removed. The premium I need to pay is $535 a month. Before the reduction, which is based on my income, my premium would be $875 a month.

Secondly, the ACA eliminated discrimination insurance companies had based on pre-existing conditions. I was diagnosed with asthma when I was 5 years old. This is a pre-existing condition that before changes in the law meant I had to wait 12-18 months when changing medical insurance companies (because of a change in jobs) to be covered. I was fortunate that my breathing issues were pretty minor until I moved to West Virginia in 2007. The Ohio River Valley is one of the areas in this country with a high cluster of breathing problems. After decades of heavy industrial air pollution and the way the air currents flow, the environment caused a major decline in my ability to breathe. My health issues were covered at the time because of a change in the law back in the 1990s: employer offered health insurance would not have the pre-existing restriction if the employer had more than 100 employees. My husband worked at one of the state universities, so we had a state employee health plan.  So, I was able to be treated for the asthma while we were living there.

But in anticipation of my husband’s retirement, the question of my healthcare once again raised its head. His retirement package included an extension of my health insurance coverage but that would run out before I would become eligible for Medicare. I anticipated a major gap of coverage and was very pleased when the Supreme Court ruled the ACA could be implemented.  And so, I have been able to continue to have insurance. I have written about my lifelong experience with my health insurance coverage in January. I did that not to elicit sympathy but to share what I believe is common situation. Many of us have known people who have had someone with a major illness and our American  healthcare insurance coverage has always been a factor in the rising number of bankruptcies in this country. aca-repeal-gop

When we talk about “millions of people will die” if the Affordable Care Act is repealed the number is hard to understand it. Recently, a health-care analyst broke the statistics down to Congressional districts. In other words, if Congress decides to erase our health care, they will lose this many people (voters)  in their own districts. I now know I am one of almost 80,000 that will be affected in my Congressional District. The difference between me and you? I know my Congresswoman, Suzanne Bonamici is one that is working to keep the program. What about YOUR representative?

Take a look at this effort to provide the information on a scale where we can realize how many of our neighbors will be dead if Congress moves forward on their promise/threat. All because its nickname is Obamacare.

And you know what?  There is a huge group of people in this country who love their health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act but despise Obamacare. Their lack of comprehension is a sign that we have a major problem with people who no longer know how to think. But that’s another blog……

 

 


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They are Making THEIR Choice Known – What’s YOUR Choice?

Back in the late 90s I worked as an administrative assistant in the Vanderbilt Hospital office that maintained the electronic machines that go beep, among other things. One of the technicians had the opportunity to go to a training seminar out of state and was excited about that until he realized he would have to rent a car to get from the airport to the training site. (No uber or lyft in those days.)  He asked if I could arrange to get the department credit card for that expense. I presented his request to the supervisor who had an interesting reaction.

He not only immediately said no, as he was wont to do anytime anyone asked anything “nice” of him, but he then went on a demeaning rant about how anyone could be so inept with their own personal finances that they could not float a $500 expense that might take a month to get reimbursed. He not only had no understanding that not everyone he knew was as financially solvent as he was, but he had no empathetic ability to recognize times may be hard for others and what small thing could he do to help.

As I was myself in severe financial straits at the time dealing with a serious long term illness in the family, I could immediate understand the technician’s situation, and so, went to bat. We got the department credit card, the technician went on his training trip, and all worked out.   But the message hit home. Some people are so narrow in their view of the world that they have NO ability to recognize anyone may be different. And when that different worldview is thrust upon them, they refuse to learn about it, and so more easily want to brush it under the table. Make it disappear.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people like that supervisor. Many are in positions of authority as he was, and so exert control with little signs of benevolence. Instead, they are judgmental and their aim to make people causing them problems disappear may not be hidden well.

Years before, sometime in the 1970s I read a book which stayed with me.  Triage by Leonard C. Lewin, published in 1973, was not a best seller and is not a spellbinding page turner but it is a view of a dystopian society where the government and individual corporations make decisions that can and will cause death of “stupid” people, “old” people, “sick” people, “worthless” people.triage-definisiton

triage-bookThe one story I remembered from reading 40+ years ago was about how car manufacturers had come up with a motor that had NO unhealthy emissions and so would eliminate pollution. Sounded great as they they made their presentation to what is clearly recognizable as the EPA until someone finally asked a question they were hoping would go unasked. Simply, the revolutionary motor needed to be started with a proscribed sequence and if not done correctly would blow up. The manufacturers had rejected installing a switch in the car to inhibit imperfect start-up because then they would be accepting responsibility if it failed. The best thing they could offer is that it would only kill the driver who would be showing his lack of intelligence by not following instructions. Passengers would only be injured. The roads would then, they argued, have one less unsafe driver and so driving accident rates could be expected to decrease.

When I went to purchase the book recently to refresh my aging memory the reviews talked about how this is a libertarian viewpoint. Each person is responsible and no paternal oversight should be expected.  I don’t know about that but I do know there is something very much missing in the actions described in the book.

Today we are about three weeks into the new President’s administration and the view from here is one where decisions are being made without much thought about consequences.  It seems like backs are being scratched and the promise to clean up the government by “draining the swamp” is resulting in an exchange of self-interested people with long term experience for people who have paid for their new position and have considerably less experience and a demonstrated predominant display of self interest.triage-decision

I am not inclined to buy into conspiracy theories but it is getting clear even to a Pollyanna like me that something stinks. We The People are not relevant to the people in power.  We WILL be killed off by restricting health insurance, astronomically raising the price of life saving medicine for increased profits,  eliminating environmental protections for water and air, allowing food to have increasing levels of potential carcinogens. Discussions about a new educational policy has not included improving work and life skills nor cognitive reasoning skills. We have been promised that rules restricting businesses will be reduced, thereby helping small business people, but the candidate to run the Labor Department has a long history showing he cares little about wages and work benefits. I fully expect more, not less regulations affecting my own business.

In addition, we are seeing the formation of a shadow administration.   We have a President who has already demonstrated he is unwilling to be informed to make decisions and thereby  relying on his advisers for their input.  In Steven Bannon we have a person who has a history of showing a very narrow definition of who is acceptable.  His advice to the president will ONLY be in their own best interest and those of their cohort.

The rest of us are expendable.  Get ready to play. You’re in the game whether you want to be or not. dice

 

 


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Six Decades of Medical Care

So many changes. Any time you can talk to someone whose life has spanned more decades than your’s, an interesting discussion could result if you asked about big changes they had observed. I thought I’d take you through a small walk about health care as I have experienced it. I suspect this post will be longer than most I write.

doctor-norman-rockwellMy mom trained as a nurse in the 1940s and met a doctor studying to be a pediatrician at the hospital in New York City. When she and my dad moved to New Jersey they were thrilled the doctor had set up practice in the next town and I was told years later that I was his first baby, whatever that implies. Anyway, we would go to his office, located in the first floor of a multi-family house and wait to be called in. I read Highlights magazines and graduated later to Reader Digests. (I guess some things never change.)  I had my first asthma attack at age 5 playing with a hula hoop. I received allergy shots with needles that were sterilized with the glass syringes in the doctor’s office in their autoclave.  When I was too sick to go to his office, he came to our house. The house call that no longer exists.

In college I went to the college infirmary. The health care fee was covered in our overall  tuition which was about $500 a year.  My 19-year-old skiing accident where I banged up my knee was ignored and over a few weeks I healed. I developed arthritis in that knee in my 40s.  (Life lesson…if you get hurt, even if you are young and can heal well, go get help to make sure you are healing correctly.)

My first job after college was for the State of Tennessee in Nashville. I really do not remember the insurance plan provided but it would have been a large group of state employees. I didn’t see the doctor at all except my annual checks for health and I ended up with a minor surgery. I did not take any medication in those days.  I don’t remember the fees but I do remember there was no stress in paying even though I was making about $6,000 a year.

herniated-discI changed jobs and moved to Memphis a few years later and in the course of the move, hurt my back. My new insurance was through my company and even though the injury happened before my first day of work, there was no waiting period.  I saw a chiropractor a few times and then an orthopedic specialist for a year before opting for surgery. There were no MRIs in those days and I was in the hospital for 4 days. My portion of the bill was under $100.  I also started allergy shots again while living there and paid $1 per shot.

I ended up a few years later  in Connecticut. My husband worked and had Blue Cross through his employer. He needed counseling and later a short hospitalization. I started taking blood pressure medication.   We had two babies (one by c-section).  One baby needed a couple of surgeries.  Our copays for medicine were $1. The hospital bills were $500 for the c-section, $300 for the next delivery VBAC, and the other surgeries were about $300 each.

That husband and I split and I was able to pick up coverage for a Kaiser Permanente HMO plan through a small business group. I paid $400 a month for a family plan which included my two kids and me, and later, a new husband.  It had no copays nor prescription costs. I fell and hurt my back again. Again I saw a chiropractor for a while and then he referred me to an orthopedic surgeon. Still no MRI in those days. The hospital stay was 2 days and I think my bill was about $700. I later had a miscarriage and the D&C cost nothing since it was done in the office. My last baby was born in the same hospital as the first, 11 years before but was also a VBAC and cost about $500.

Then I moved back to Nashville and my husband started working for the State of Tennessee and we had HMO plan through Aetna. Prescriptions were $2 or $5 each. Doctor visits to our primary physician were free. Specialists were more and this was when things started getting really interesting since my husband was soon diagnosed with brain cancer.  We were sent for a C-Scan one day and then an MRI the next. The specialist at Vanderbilt Medical Center ran a kazillion tests to determine where the tumor was located and the potential effect removal would have. Surgery was scheduled and became the day my life seriously changed as he had the equivalent of a stroke on the operating table and was not expected to survive. But he made it through the night, improved in fits and starts in 8 weeks in the ICU, another 2 weeks in a regular room and then home. Physical therapy was provided at home for a few sessions and then we went to the clinic for that. I understood the coverage for physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy was for 5 weeks. The clinic suggested visits twice a week. We asked for and went daily every weekday of those 5 weeks.  At that point he had improved enough that they wanted to try the surgery they had had to stop 5 months before. It went well, with 2 weeks in ICU and then home after another week. The bill, when it got to us and I finally figured out the in and out and all around nonsense, was $7500 to us.brain-tumors-fig4ab_large

(Now, we step aside for a minute. Recognizing that $7500 is an amazingly low bill for all the scans and surgeries and special tests and ICU and medicines, it still was something above and beyond what we could afford. He was the wage earner. I was home with the baby, something both of us had wanted to try to do for a couple of years and I was just starting to look for work when his seizures started. So, we had no income, no savings and we had that $7500 bill and of course all our normal living expenses and rent, utilities, food, car expenses and then I needed migraine medications, I’m sure you can understand why.

At that point I did a few things. First, I called our landlord and asked him if he had a smaller, less expensive place for us to live and he listened to the why of the question, was silent and then said “The last thing you need is to move. Pay me when you can as much as you can and don’t worry about it until then. I am in a position to help you.” That man is one of my life angels. I have used this story whenever I hear anyone talk about how people who are homeless are all drug addicts or drunks and basically did it to themselves. There but for the grace of that wonderful man, we would have been homeless.

I also called and talked to someone at the county level to find out if I qualified for any assistance program for the six months until the social security disability payments kicked in. They said no. The problem was we had a VERY few thousand dollars in our IRAs and they wanted us to use that up before any public assistance would kick in. The fact that it was a temporary need and very little set aside for our future did not work into any equation for help.

Finally, I called the credit card companies. We had 3 cards and each had about $2000 on it. I asked for the cards to be frozen. Basically I would not use them but asked for no interest or penalties. I owed the $6000 but did not want to see it go ridiculously higher when we could not make payments. They refused to work with me.)

So, back to the medical care. Cancer is expensive. We had radiation therapy. We had chemotherapy. And then, something unexpected happened. He did not die. I was told to expect him to not live beyond five years and when all was said and done, it was about 10 years. I had gotten a job after the first round of chemo so we would start having more income. I was lucky to get a job at Vanderbilt Medical Center and later the University. In those days the issue of pre-existing conditions meant that he would have had no medical coverage at all and I would not have had coverage for my blood pressure, allergies and stupid migraines for at least 12 months. But the year before the Democratic Congress had passed a law that any employer with more than 100 employees would offer health plans with no pre-existing conditions limitations.

So on we went. The plan each year at Vanderbilt changed. Sometimes it was strongly limited to Vanderbilt with very low fees inside that medical center and higher rates outside. No big deal to us since we were relatively new to town, but it caused messes for people who had relationships with doctors outside the system. One year it was equal inside and outside the medical center. I had sinus surgery that year at a different hospital.  By that time my share of our medical bills were topping $15,000. Still not a ridiculously high price but too high for us.

I went to talk to a debt counselor. After hearing my story he got up and shut the door and said they were not supposed to suggest bankruptcy but our situation was exactly the reason the law was there. I refused. Maybe not my wisest decision but I felt we owed all we owed except for the stupid interest and penalties for the three credit cards. He suggested if I chose bankruptcy my credit would be okay in seven years. I still said no. I felt morally obligated to pay my bills. I just needed help getting them reduced or a time payment plan set up.bankruptcy-causes

hospicemedallionAnd on it went. About eight and a half years into the illness my husband could no longer stay home safely by himself. The option of me quitting working was not feasible, so we needed to find a nursing home for his care. The one that had a bed at the time was my third choice. The top two had a medical director that was our primary care physician so I thought the continuity with the same practitioner would be beneficial. But they had no beds, so he went to #3.  It was fine, as those kind of places go, but week after week he “failed” the test to be able to become a Medicaid patient. He could put the pills in his mouth and swallow them when they were handed to him. He could dress himself in two hours when the clothes were given to him. He could still manage to shuffle to the bathroom. But the time came when he couldn’t do enough of the things on the checklist and so, became eligible. All bills were sent to Medicaid. The nursing home had a fire three days later and 13 patients died. (The story of that night is for another time.)  Ironically, my husband got transferred to one of the places we wanted.   Once Medicaid took over, I had no more additional costs for him. We stopped taking him for MRIs when it needed to be by ambulance and really, why bother after a while. Hospice got involved and visited him three times a week to provide supplemental care issues.

I stayed at Vanderbilt another 18 months after he died.  By that time I had moved to the university side of Vanderbilt and was voted to the Staff Council. My project was to track the amount we shared in our  paychecks to pay for our medical insurance (and parking) each year (the payroll deduction increased about 10% annually) while noting our raises each year (about 5%). While I appreciated the benefits, I wanted people to realize that we were slipping backwards all the time. I quit the Council when I was told to stop; that the administration did not want that kind of information shared with the staff who could not figure it out themselves.  Meanwhile,  Graham, who I had met online in a chat room about 8 years before, asked me to marry him and have my youngest and me join him. He was teaching at a state university in West Virginia, so had a health insurance plan through the state.  He was able to add my son as a dependent pretty quickly but I paid COBRA until we got married.

copayThe new plan was challenging. It was a more standard system with copays and deductibles that had to be met and  with a cap on lifetime use.  Having been exposed to the world of cancer I knew sometimes patients ran into the lifetime limit and care ended, with death soon after. It was horrific to watch knowing a maintenance dose could keep a person alive longer with a decent quality of life.  I started allergy treatments again as my sinuses and lungs were getting horribly affected with the pollution in the Ohio River Valley.  We had no dental care coverage, minimal eye health coverage, and limited options for specialists because West Virginia is one of those places in the nation that just does not have all the choices other places do.

And then the young one left for college. We had to take out an insurance policy of about $1000 a year on top of all his tuition and fees and room and board for him to access the medical care on campus. Then Graham retired and we made our move to Oregon. Graham had enrolled in Medicare and the first problem we had was there were no primary care doctors in our town who were taking new Medicare patients. I paid $500 a month for a COBRA plan from the State of West Virginia when the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act allowed implementation. I was pleased because the time limit for COBRA was going to run out before I became old enough for Medicare.

ohpWorking with someone trained in all the offerings, I selected a plan that was good and did not cost “much” It was $550 a month just for me. Since our rate was based on the prior year’s income and we had now retired, we resubmitted about 4 months later with our current income. We wanted to find something in the $350 a month range but instead they enrolled me in the Oregon Health Plan, the expanded Medicaid offering.

I was concerned that I would not get adequate care but was extremely surprised and pleased for the most part. The one issue where the specialist decided not to order an MRI when I injured my arthritic knee (“You have arthritis” he said. “I know,” I answered, ” but it feels different and I can’t walk right.”) and told me to go home. Otherwise, the clinic was friendly, competent and ON TIME.

Last September it was time to re-enroll and our joint income was $200 a month too high to qualify for the same plan, so I had to go back out to the Marketplace and found something for $530.  And OHP dropped me in September but I could not pick up the new plan until January 1. I went three months without my breathing meds ($1000 out of pocket per month) and that set me back to a 20% lung function rating. It will take me about three months to climb back to something better. I have copays and a deductible of $2500. I’m partway there….got that MRI for the knee and that cost me over $700 out of picket because I am working down my deductible.

So, the point here was not to bitch and moan. The point is to show that health insurance has ALWAYS been confusing and ALWAYS has been inaccessible to a large group of the American public.  Prices ALWAYS go up. Benefits ALWAYS go down.

But I sure enjoyed the Medicaid plan. I would be willing to pay an affordable monthly fee for a plan that allowed me to get care without any copays or deductibles or lifetime limits.  THAT was a joy.cost-of-healthcare

 


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The Risky Trade-Off: How You are Taught To Conform

I tried to be a caring parent, providing a lot of positive messages to my kids while teaching them life lessons and tricks that would permit them to become successful adults who could participate in and contribute to society. More than once they would come home from school complaining about some rule which they considered to be inane, because it was a  no-brainer as far as they were concerned.

I had to tell them that many children were NOT being taught basic rules of community behavior that would permit them to fit in without negative consequences, so in large groups and organizations, like schools and like most jobs in their future, there were going to be rules that might be nit picky at best and downright rigid at worse. I also told my kids that if they didn’t know the rules in any given place just to follow my rules and they should be in good standing.

I never beat my kids. I did not like getting spanked or yelled at as a child and I strongly disagree with any adult who feels those are the only ways to get a child to pay attention. I think if you start early enough, the teaching can be done better. The problem, as I see it, is that many people do not nip a problem when it is small, and so, react in a larger way when it becomes greatly annoying. And being bigger and stronger only lasts so long with children.authoritarian

So, in many families there is a system of uncertainty for the kids. They do what they want and then boom! they are punished. For many of those people, as they grow up, they like knowing the rules. They feel safer when there are rules. They like having someone give them strict boundaries for behavior that will keep them out of trouble.

Until they don’t like it. And then they have no way to work through it. They have been taught to conform, to swallow any impulse to think differently. So, if annoyed by the power above them, they tend to strike at those they consider weaker. And so the cycle is perpetuated.

Right now we have a large segment of the US population who seems to like the idea of a strong leader who makes pronouncements instead of working with others. In fact, many people are confused with the marches and protests that have been happening since they perceive no threat to their own small world. Why is it some of us perceive a threat when others are not concerned?  It can not simply be that we are smarter but perhaps we read more and remember history better than others. Perhaps that reading and learning has helped us to recognize the clues of starting problems before they get really large.leadership-theiiry

We also are seeing many other nations leaning towards a conservative government. In fact, it is interesting to note that the one liberal government that exists in a major European nation right now is Germany. Perhaps their own experience with a fascist dictator taught them all they need to know.

Let’s hope that the lesson America is about to learn does not have a similar high a price to pay.