Thursday, February 4, 2016

Car! What is it good for?

If I'm counting up correctly, this year marks a decade since we became a one car family. We ditched our second car when it became clear that the blessed hand-me-down Corolla would never pass a WV vehicle inspection, and I'd like to say that we've never looked back. For the first eight or so years, that was true. Lately, the logistics have begun to irk me.

I love a lot about having only one car in the family. First, it gets a person her Simple Living street cred in awfully easy way. I don't make our household detergent. I rarely thrift our clothing. We eat Little Caesar's pizza once a week. But hey, we only drive the one car, so that gets us a lot of sustainability points in the Ecological Olympics.

And if I'm trying not to be cynical, I do love the simplicity brought on by the car-lite lifestyle. When we lived in West Virginia, Chris was a bicycle commuter; now he gets to work on foot. Having only one car forces a person to lavish some tender care upon that car and to develop a close relationship with a mechanic, first Jeff with Auto-Tech in Huntington and now the amazing Mike Sipple here in Berea. Having only one car forces us to consider our longer errands. I can't go to Richmond while Chris goes to Lexington, and that's a good thing. We've chosen housing and jobs, based in part on the decision to remain a one car family.

But... but... but, then there are the increasing days like today.

So I have to be at work by 7:00 every morning, but Buttercup the cat needed to be at the vet's at 7:30 today for kitten surgery. I've been struggling with a migraine all week which meant that walking was off the table for me. Chris dropped me at work at 7:00; he came back to the house and got Paul and Buttercup, then dropped Paul at school and Buttercup at the vet.  Elly and Lola walked to school.  If it had been bucketing down the rain, Chris might have made a third trip to the community school this morning.  Instead, he went to the college and picked up our host daughter Guerds, who needed to go to Frankfort to meet with some legislators.  Toward the end of the morning, I left my office to run errands up on the hill, errands that could be easily run on foot thanks to Berea's small size.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten that one of the offices I needed to visit has moved for renovations, and I couldn't make it from the old office to the new one before it closed for lunch.  At least, I couldn't make it on foot. I walked home. After lunch, Chris and Guerds returned from Frankfort, and I ran them in the car up to campus so that they wouldn't be late for their afternoon labor and meetings. That's where we stand as I write.

In a bit, I'll go meet Paul's bus on foot, and we'll hang out at home until things get complicated again. Somehow, in the course of one hour this evening we're going to drop kids off for piano lessons and pick them up, fetch Buttercup from the vet post-spaying, get me back to school for an evening meeting, get everyone else home for supper.   At some point, we need to  finally bring me home in time to tuck Paul in tonight.

And that's when I begin to hear the siren song of a second car.  How easy would this day be if both of the licensed drivers had access to a vehicle?.  No logistics to be worked out.  Just hop in the car and go.

Ten years in, I'm going to try to tell myself that if the planet is going to make it or if we humans are going to make it, then we're going to have to embrace the logistics of decreased driving. We have to love the work of figuring out how to do more with fewer conveniences.

Come the apocalypse, Chris and I may not be able to dress a deer, build our own housing, or make our medicines from forest plants, but we do know how to get from points A to Z and hit all the letters in between with only one car.  That counts for something, right?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Gym Rat

Because I'm always a little more comfortable when life takes an academic tinge,let's start with a multiple choice question.

Q:  What did Jenny NOT allow to derail her on her quest for a workout today?
       A.  Walking in an ankle-deep puddle in her gym shoes
       B.  Discovering that someone had taken the earphones out of her gym bag
       C.  Struggling with a high-tech sports undergarment
       D. The loud farts of a fellow exerciser

Did you guess E?  All of the above?   Because that's correct!   Ding-ding-ding!

Let's take the barriers in turn, shall we?

A.  I know this is bad.  I worked out with wet feet. Now I'm either going to get athlete's foot or the consumption! I grew up in the 1970s with constant tv ads for athlete's foot remedies. I knew the risks. But this was the very first excuse-maker I encountered today. I have just finished a snowy week of constant caretending to the young, the teen, and the young adult. I was not taking any excuses.  I would risk pneumonia to get a workout.  

B.  My earphones? We all know that the sole purpose of working out is (a) to move your middle-aged body enough so that it doesn't hurt when you wake up in the night and (b) to listen to podcasts. But my feet were already wet and I had a magazine. I have given birth to children; I can exert myself without being entertained. No excuses!

C.  Seriously? I don't mean to brag, but I've been wearing undergarments of the upper regions for over three decades now. How is that the latest one I picked up requires an advanced degree to operate? Or maybe a youtube video. But I know better than to google that kind of thing. Just breathe and think of the struggle as part of the workout.

D.  I'm not going to lie: this one just about did it for me. I work in an elementary school.  I live with young people, and I'm supposed to hear loud,exercise-related farting in a public space without giggling? This is a small town, built on strong social values. If I laughed, I would have had to leave. Leave the gym?  Leave town forever in my shame?  One or the other. So I engaged my core and kept my giggle inside. Workout managed.

If there's one thing we can say about my persistence in the face of these immediate obstacles, it's that it's January.  It's workout season.

Let's talk again in July.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The latest phase

I remember clearly when my friend Heather's house was the place where every kid on the block congregated every day. I remember because I remember thinking, "Heather is so admirable to have all these kids here. ALLLLLL these kids. I could never do this. It would make me nuts."

Guess what?  Now I'm the mom with a full house most of the week. There are young teenagers in and out all the time. There are college students either in residence or coming over for a meal. I never know exactly how many people are going I'm going to be feeding at night or how many toothbrushes I'm going to find in the bathroom in the morning. At least, the eight year old's social life is somewhat more regulated, meaning that I generally have to make a conscious decision to fill up the house with a herd of boys. I'm relishing the inability of second graders to text and call each other. They have to use their moms as a go-between.

Overall, I'm fine with this full house, and that's the part I never expected. I like quiet. I like privacy. It turns out I can also like watering the soup so that there's enough to go around. I like eavesdropping. I like having  a full table.

The point is this:  every time, life gets ready to change or starts to change, I always think that the new life is going to be totally unmanageable. We can never get used to me working full-time or me working part-time; we can never get used to having a teenager; we can never get used to having everyone in school; we can never get used to Chris working more evenings; we can never get used to Chris working fewer evenings; we can never get used to having college students staying here in the summer or the winter; we can never get used to having sleepovers every week.

But every single time, the new normal becomes the new normal. Without fail, we adapt. Our family has faced relatively minor adaptations: more faces at the table, not fewer; more food to put on the table for people, not scarcity for those already here.

I wish that I would learn this lesson:  as long as we come around the table, we are okay. We're not just okay. We are good. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Why do we love our pets? Seriously. Why do we love our pets?

Readers, I write to you, having had sufficient time to recover from pet-related disgust. I've also showered several times. 

Pets at the holidays... ah, they make us question our human connections to our canine and feline siblings.

So the deal is that the dog goes to a kennel while we are out of town and the kitten gets a cat sitter. The dog would get a sitter, too, except that she embarks on full-scale property destruction when we leave. Those who love the classic hits of Hobson’s Choice will also remember that Josie can escape from any crate available for purchase at your local petshop. She’s dumb, except when it comes to escape. She can’t fetch, but she can break bars.

I would think that the dog would not approve of the kennel at the vet’s office. She spent the first two years of her life enclosed in a car with a bad man. I guess it was just the “bad man” part of that equation that sent her on the road to the land of Poor Mental Health, the realm where she makes her life. The small, enclosed spaces part of her youth must have been great because she loves the kennel. I have no worries about her when we leave town.

I, however, don’t love paying for TWO animals to go to the kennel, especially when one is a cat and can be relied on to poop in a box. So the dog went to a kennel over Christmas; the kitten stayed home with visits from a sitter for food and box cleaning.

Our disgusting holiday story begins when I pick up the dog from the kennel early on the 27th.

The fabulous folks at Silver Creek let me come pick Josie up on a Sunday morning so that I could take her to Indiana for the rest of Christmas. When we say that “our dog has gone to a farm where she can run and play,” it’s not a euphemism. Our dog really does go to my mom and dad’s where she can run around outside and have the time of her life. It’s her vacation. She loves it.

When I picked Josie up on the 27th, she was so excited to see me that the first thing she did was barf. At the age of 42, I hit another developmental milestone:  my very presence made another creature so happy that she threw up. She missed my shoes, but I still thought it would be a great idea to change clothes and shower before heading to Indiana.

We raced home. I greeted the cat. I showered. When I got out of the shower, I began to notice a new and bad smell in the house. Upon exploration, I discovered that the cat had turned a sofa into a vacation-time vomitorium. There was so much vomit and so cunningly deposited -- not just on cushions, but into the deepest crevices of the couch -- that it was clear that the sofa would have to leave the room until it could be recovered. But being alone and not the kind of person who can move a sofa through the narrow doors of a century-old house by herself, I contented myself that day with taking the cushions down to the laundry where I blasted them with Pet Cleaner. Then, swallowing the bile, I applied myself and the Nature’s Miracle to the deep innards of the couch.

The vomit seemed to be dissipating, but the smell was only getting worse, and it seemed to follow me around the room. It was at that point that I discovered that the dog, outraged by the cat vomit, had decided to poop on another part of the sofa to make a point. And while I was spraying one end of the sofa with cleaner, the poop had rolled off the other end of the couch. And I had – yes, you guessed it, stepped in it.

When a few days later, I got into an online conversation about people who don’t like animals, I thought a lot about puke and poop. My friend and I were talking about how it’s a good rule of thumb to be wary of folks who dislike animals. And it’s true; it’s a rule that’s served me well. I reckon that when you meet people who do like animals, at least you know that they are patient enough to deal with the vomit and piss and all other manner of mess coming out of a languageless critter. So they might be okay to you, too.

Happy New Year! May 2016 bring you a life full of loving creatures, great and small, with a minimum of property-destroying bodily functions. May 2016 bring those joys to us all. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: That was the year that was

What a year. It's been a rough year for Family Hobson Green. These are the lights we'll remember.

2015, the year I went back to work:  Starting fresh and bright in January, I went back to work for the first time since moving to Berea. It's been nothing but joy. I still maintain that getting our family settled in after the move was the right choice.  Both kids have found good home places here after the transition, and a good bit of that is due to my ability to be with them as they found those new places. It was a sacrifice for me, one of those adult tasks that aren't made any easier for being necessary. Getting back to work has lifted me out of the doldrums of that sacrifice, and the ease of the transition to work has been fostered  by the opportunity to do meaningful work that I love:  creating and working modes of communication to help families engage with their students' education. I will always be grateful to Emily Reed and Dreama Gentry for taking a chance on an out-of-work ex-teacher who wanted to try something different, to Grace McKenzie for spending the year with me, and to Paula Gordon for welcoming me in her new principal position.

2015, the year our reproductive adventures ceased:  As shiningly wonderful as my professional life has been this year, the reproductive toll turned 2015 into a rough one for us. In late April, we found ourselves very unexpectedly expecting a new addition. And then almost immediately, a very long miscarriage took us through  the month of May. Regular readers know how fragile and difficult my previous pregnancies and losses have been, and this one was only easier by virtue of all the mixed feelings that surround unexpected pregnancies in middle age. It helps when you're on a road well traveled and familiar. Knowing that we didn't want any more possible go-rounds on this worn path, Chris had a procedure that put an end to this phase of our life. We are grateful and sad, and sad and grateful.

2015, the year the writing changed:  The blog has been all but absent in 2015 as my writing energy has poured into newsletters, mini-grant proposals, big grant proposals, and social media for our school. It's not enough though to keep my writing fingers buzzing and my writing mind quiet. 2016 will have to find space for the creative.

2015, the year we became parents to a teen:  And we found that Chris's nurturing ability comes to the forefront when it comes to teens. There's a reason why he's good at working with young people, and I'm grateful to be here with him. As good as  I am with very young children, I find myself mystified by teens. 2016 is the year I vow to do better because we have a very good teen on our hands, and I want to be good with her. 

2015, the year of the first cancer scare:  True middle age joined us with the first biopsy. I had my thyroid biopsied in July, and I'm grateful to say that there's no cancer in it. But that very first scare was... scary.

2015, the year of the " house" sister:  One of our international host students lived with us this summer and expanded our vision of family. Paul, confusing "host" for "house," labeled Guerds his "house sister," and she is now the daughter of our hearts. I've always been a bit introvertedly stingy about time and space, but I learned the joys of adding to our family with Guerds

2015, the year of no more single Hobsons -- My youngest brother got married this summer. Our family  cannot contain our gratitude for Marissa, our new family member. She's creative and kind and smart. She is universally beloved, and we can't wait to spend the rest of our lives with her in the Hobson family.

2015, the year of 47 books -- I only read 47 books this year. I am ashamed.

2015, the year we all learned to read -- With Paul in second grade, this was the year when our family became a family of readers.  It's kind of weird to think that we can all read words now. It's very weird, in fact. Every time, Paul sees a word and recognizes it, I almost do a double-take. He still has many, many thousands of words to learn, but our house is now full of people who can read.

2015, the year of the kitten -- In October, an orange tabby kitten decided that she lived here. I'm a cat lover, so I've been thrilled that Paul seems not to be allergic to this particular feline. Josie, the dog who gets ever more arthritic and aged, is unsure about the cat and is spending more time on my lap. 

2015, the year a moment on Chestnut St. brought light to a hard year:  It seems like the news, both global and local, have been been unrelentingly bad for as long as we can remember. But in November, the president called us together to speak love to Berea on a Monday afternoon. I'm downtrodden by Trump, by terror, by guns, by violence, by racism, by sexism. But when I want to remember 2015, I'm going to remember that moment in 2015 when the whole family gathered to remember our local motto that "God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth."

May 2016 bring us more news that reflects our oneness and our love. It's not looking good. It's looking middle-aged, but we're ready (just not for presidential politics). 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Children: Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Most of the time the "Why We Can't Have Nice Things" aspect of having children is a bit of a bummer. There's an entire tumblr devoted to "Shit My Kids Ruined."   If you haven't visited it, I strongly recommend its therapeutic and healing benefits. After seeing the pictures of mayhem,  I definitely felt better about the time 9 year old Elly thought the refrigerator door would make a great jungle gym. She swung back and forth on it for god knows how long while I was tucking in her brother, and the door never shut right after that. But after looking at the "Sh*t My Kids Ruined" site, I felt better. My offspring are not the only forces of random, well-meaning destruction in the world.

So we know that we can't have nice things because children destroy them, but today I'd like to take a moment to ponder the cash they save us because of the nice things we want but cannot have because of youthful phobias. Children are risk-takers, yes. They do not understand the world and its dangers. But I have yet to meet a child that doesn't also have some bizarre terror of relatively harmless objects, and I'd like to praise the dollar-saving potential of those fears.

It's on my mind a lot at this time of the year, because of my son's undying hatred and fear of all (non-candy related) Halloween. It speaks to the tenacity of his sweet tooth that he will trick or treat for candy while loathing Halloween with all his might. I lay the blame on a preschool teacher who decided that the best way to introduce toddlers to Halloween was to terrorize them. Regardless, Paul's feelings about Halloween are long-standing. He would love to see a holiday that provided him with candy and pumpkins, but that omitted the skulls, the blood, the witches, the ghosts, and the spider webs.

Meanwhile, in the last eight years, the Halloween vendors have upped their game. Even going to the grocery store for milk, I come upon all kinds of spectacular Halloween decorations that could turn my home into a veritable orange, black, and silver paradise. Those things cannot be mine because I am not in the business of terrorizing my offspring. Think of the twenties of dollars I could potentially have spent on glittery skulls!  Thank you, Paul. We will put that into your college fund... or our nursing home fund... one or the other. Or since I'm at the grocery store looking at the glitter skulls, I'll go ahead and pick up milk and yogurt.

So in the grand accounting of "Why We Can't Have Nice Things," I will have to replace my couch cover sooner rather than later because of the persistent sneaking (and therefore, spilling) of yogurt and milk on the sofa.  BUT I can pay for the couch cover with the money I've saved by refraining from all Halloween decorating. 

I have successfully bought and used two Halloween tea towels this year, so it may be that the child needs to develop a new phobia for next year in order to keep this fiscal ship afloat. Maybe a fear of milk and yogurt?

Next up:  how I avoided the costly, scented candle crazed during young Eleanor's fear of all fire!

Hobson's Choice Health Care Outrage of the Week

Yes, it's time to return to a regular feature of the blog as your Chronic Illness Super Family returns to document the ways that our health care system is broken.

I'm sad today to report a story that demonstrates the pitfalls of our system in a post-ACA world. ACA, or ObamaCare, has been great in decreasing the numbers of the uninsured, especially in a state like ours which has implemented ACA and the Medicaid expansion gung-ho. There is nothing but good in reducing the numbers of folks without insurance, both for people facing illness and for a system that needs to pay for sick people. ObamaCare has been good at increasing access to preventative services, which is going to save our whole system a lot in the long run, both in terms of dollars and in terms of valuable people who are going to live healthier lives and contribute to our society. 

But, our health care system is still SUPER broken, and today I'm talking about paperwork and hidden inequity.

Last spring, I had to have a simple CT scan of my neck, and thanks to a paperwork snarl, I got to see a little of the ugliness of how our system charges people differently depending on the assets they bring to their illness.  

My provider, who has a long and storied history of paperwork incompetence, neglected to get preauthorization from my insurance provider for my CT scan. My insurance company refused to pay for the scan, so I got to see exactly how much the provider charges for CT scans when no insurance is involved. The basic and unadulterated number does show up on every Explanation of Benefits form from my insurance company, but it's easy to ignore when I have insurance and I’m  only paying attention to the bottom line of what I’m going to pay.

Despite the median national cost for CT scan of the head being around $700, my provider charged a whopping $6,000 for the procedure.

Now before you start panicking for my personal finances, we went back and got the insurance company to retro-actively authorize the procedure. It worked because... "Oh dear god, not that woman again. She can deploy school teacher, social worker, and mom voice at one time. And she is relentless. She believes medical care is a basic human right. She is the terminator. Just turn in the damn paperwork!"

Oh, and also because this happens all the time in a broken system, insurance companies are used to applying these retroactive preauthorizations. 

None of this is the sad part of the story yet, although it's certainly sad that a CT scan costs ten times the national median in a state where generally the cost of living is well below the national median. 

Now that the insurance company was involved, hey presto! Suddenly, a CT scan didn't cost $6,000 anymore. My insurance company had already negotiated a rate for CT scans with the provider, and that rate is less than $300. Since it was late in the plan year and we are Chronic Illness Super Family, we'd already met the deductible and my own personal CT scan ended up costing me around $50. Regardless, even if I hadn't yet met my deductible, that CT would never have cost me much more than $300, even if I were to pro-rate and include the thousands we pay in insurance premiums and deductibles each year

But if I hadn't had the insurance company operating on my behalf?  I would currently be negotiating a $6,000 bill with the provider. I probably wouldn't end up paying $6,000, but I'd pay a lot more than $50.

And that's what sad. Rates change remarkably, depending on what insurance a person has or whether a patient has insurance at all. The higher rates apply to folks who are least likely to be able to pay them. It's that old confusing Bible adage, "to him that hath, more shall be given; to him that hath not, more shall be taken away." 

I understand that insurance companies and providers work this way because that's what the market will bear, because the bottom line determines health care costs in our nation, even after ACA. Regardless of what the market will bear, I'm not sure that our hearts can bear it. Certainly, our moral compasses shouldn't.

And that's your Health Care Outrage of the Week.