Obamacare Endures, and for That We Are Grateful: An Update

Well, it’s that time of year:  Open Enrollment is upon us.  It’s a time I both dread and welcome.  I dread the clunky website and the endless data entry and the long but usually helpful calls to customer service, but I welcome the opportunity to once again share with you my gratitude for the blessing that Obamacare has been to our family.

As I wrote in last year’s update, Blue Cross returned to the exchange, and Humana left.  There were two good results for us:  one of our doctors that we see regularly was back in network, and our premium was so low that Advance Premium Tax Credit covered the whole thing.  Yes, you read that correctly:  our monthly payment was reduced to zero.  On the negative side, our deductible went up to (I think) 1350 per person, and John has still not met his.  And even after the deductible is met, we are now on a 50-50 plan instead of the 80-20 we had become used to–and this was the only choice we had.

We haven’t had major medical expenses this year, so we have made out just fine with this plan.  I haven’t run the numbers, but my sense is that not having to pay a premium made up for the higher deductible, especially since we still get the negotiated rate advantage on all our prescriptions.  But we got a letter the other day saying that this plan is going away and we are going to have to pick a different Blue Cross plan for next year.  These changes do get old, but my preview of Healthcare.gov last week left me hopeful–we have several plans to pick from and they look as good as what we have currently.

Another bright spot was a letter I received from Humana (last year’s insurer) a few weeks ago–a letter that included a check refunding us a portion of our premiums!  Apparently a little-known aspect of the ACA requires that if insurers earn over a certain amount of profits, they must refund a percentage of the premiums paid.  Yes, you read that right–under the terms of this imploding law that is so bad for insurance companies and consumers alike, Humana ended up doing so well that they had to give me money back!

So, yes, no matter what you may have been hearing in the news, Obamacare lives on, and is still helping people, with all its flaws.  It needs changes but it doesn’t need to be repealed.  And the constant uncertainty caused by the GOP threats to get rid of it isn’t helping anyone.  I know it hasn’t been the unadulterated blessing it has been for us for some of my readers, and I am sorry for that.  But I continue to believe it is important for me to share the positive experiences that the ACA has brought to this previously uninsured family.

2019 TN
For more of my writing on the Affordable Care Act aka ObamaCare, see below and click away!
The $64,000 Question, Answered
Who Are the Uninsured?
Uninsured No More
ObamaCare Update
ObamaCare Update 2
ObamaCare:  My Latest Update
ObamaCare Revisited
More on Our Journey to Health, Brought to You by Obamacare
It’s Good to Be Insured: An ObamaCare Update
Obamacare in Practice:  An Update
An Open Letter to My Friends Who Want to Repeal ObamaCare
Obamacare Update: Good, Bad, and Ugly
Not Repealed and Not Imploding:  An Obamacare Update

A Plethora of Peacocks: Lessons from Drama and Real Life

Back in my high school days, the Drama Club was one of my favorite extra-curricular activities.  I participated in every production that occurred while I was a student.

My all-time favorite role was Penelope (Penny) Sycamore, the mother in You Can’t Take It with You.  This wacky woman, the matriarch of an eccentric clan of characters, was always at her typewriter, writing plays.

As the climax of the action nears, we learn WHY Penny writes plays–because eight years ago, a typewriter was delivered to the house by mistake!

I think about his whenever I talk about the peacocks in my house.

We moved here nearly seven years ago, after our previous home burned down.  For three weeks John and I and the “little kids” lived at my sister’s house, the big boys stayed with friends, and our dog hung out at my other sister’s (Emily was away at college).  We needed somewhere to move quickly, somewhere that would accommodate our large family and our need for an in-home office.

We ended up in a home that had been customized by the prior renter, who apparently had a thing about peacocks.  There’s a peacock stepping stone in the garden and a statue just outside the front door.  There are peacocks painted on either side of the front entry and another in the breakfast nook.  There’s even a tiny one in their family coat of arms which we’ve chosen not to paint over in order to give this very new house a little bit of history.

peacock 3peacock 2peacock 7peacock 1

Now we could have asked our landlady to paint over all the peacocks.  (We did ask her to paint over the red tree on the living room wall which was encircled by the words “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one, single, solitary step.“)  Or we could have just tolerated the peacocks.

Instead, like Penelope Sycamore did with her misdelivered typewriter, we embraced the unexpected.  Searching for meaning, I found that peacocks have been a Christian symbol of resurrection, which seemed fitting as we left our old lives more or less in ashes and started all over with a new home and new possessions.

And, as it happens, Cracker Barrel has a collection of peacock decor items which have over the years put me in serious danger of becoming a crazy peacock lady.  I have a peacock lamp and a variety of decorative items like candle holders and vases in peacock colors.  I bought throw pillows to match the theme and eventually plan to paint one wall a peacock blue.  I even have peacock shoes!

peacock 4peacock 5peacock 6002

As I wrote the above, I realized that maybe there’s a reason why the role of Penelope Sycamore meant so much to me.  I don’t know whether I absorbed something from her, or if the casting was foreshadowing, but there is more of Penny in me than I ever knew.

Like her, I’m the mother in a houseful of rowdy people who may or may not be related to me at any given time.  Penny welcomed a Russian ballet teacher, an expat grand duchess, a drunken actress, and the mailman (who never left) with unfailing hospitality and good humor.  When my boys were younger it was not unusual for our house to be filled with people I had never seen before.

Penny didn’t let her family responsibilities get in the way of her personal pursuits, and neither do I.  Like Penny, painting or typing with the chaos all around her, I’ve learned to tune out all but the loudest screams while I blog or read.  I ignore the shenanigans in my basement just like Penny remained unfazed by the sounds of exploding fireworks in hers.

Like her, I’ve learned not to care about being conventional but rather to follow my heart and allow my family members to do the same.  Penny equally applauded her husband’s fireworks, her son-in-law’s printing, her older daughter’s dancing, her younger daughter’s engagement, and her father’s snake-collecting.  It never occurred to her to worry about what others would think of the family’s lifestyle.

Penelope Sycamore was completely secure in herself and her family.  She didn’t even think about whether other people would like her or not.  She was able to put worry aside, fully inhabit her days, and enjoy life as it came.  I’m not there yet, but I’m trying.

I will not die an unlived life . . . I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid . . .
~ Dawna Markova

Thank you, Penny.  Now bring on the peacocks!

A Perfect Day

Yesterday started out with some extremely crappy news from our (former) billing company.  [Good news in disguise, y’all.  Hindsight.] But the rest of the day, thankfully, was wonderful enough to tip the balance on my happiness scale.
It’s Fall Break for William, but not for Lorelei, but I let her “ditch” (her words–“play hooky” was what I called it) so that we, along with Emily, who had the day off from work, could go to Dollywood.   It was a perfect October day–the high just reached 70, it was sunny and breezy and the air was full of flying leaves and smoky smells–yes, you could just about insert every autumn cliche and hit the mark for yesterday.  Dollywood is having its Harvest/Gospel celebration and they’ve festooned the place with pumpkins and mums.  It was beautiful and even though it was crowded no one wanted to go on the water rides except us apparently so no lines!
lorelei pumpkin
As I was waiting on William who was in line for the swings (along with the train, his favorite ride) I was looking at Facebook on my phone.  I saw my friend Helga posting some familiar looking pictures and realized she was at Dollywood too!  Now I say Helga and I are friends–and we are–but we had never met in person.  If memory serves, we got acquainted online a couple of years ago through our mutual comments on my friend Katie’s blog.  I’ve written before about the connection I feel with my virtual friends, so it was the absolute highlight of my visit to Dollywood when I heard someone hollering my name and I looked over at the next ride and saw Helga!  We only had a second to exchange a big hug before she had to get on the ride with her darling granddaughter but I am still smiling. [Still smiling as I read this over.  There’s nothing like the thrill of meeting an online friend in real life.]
After dinner at our new favorite restaurant in Pigeon Forge (Fusion Cafe, which is Asian because if you dine out with William it pretty much has to be Asian) we went home to wait for Teddy, on his way home from Notre Dame for Fall Break.  John had gone to pick him up Thursday, and they were estimated to arrive at 8:30.  However, John texted me that Teddy wanted to stop at the KCHS football game first.  I remember my first visit home from college, and how my family didn’t understand my need to spend time with my friends during my brief visit.  So I accepted the two hour delay, and got my first glimpse of Teddy in two months via Facebook!

Teddy with some of his high school football buddies, taken by Patrice Staley, proud mom to Reece, the handsome cadet in the middle
Teddy with some of his high school football buddies, taken by Patrice Staley, proud mom to Reece, the handsome cadet in the middle

 
When Teddy finally got home at almost 11, William was the first one to get a hug.  We had to make him let go so the rest of us could get a turn.  Then Teddy came in and sat down at the counter and said the magic words: “Do you have any food?” I was THRILLED to get out my frying pan and cook for him. 🙂  And finally I was able to get a little information out of him about school and what he has been up to for the past two months.
Teddy eventually went back out to go see Jake, who was at a friend’s house, and then I sat down with William and watched the last half of The Return of the King.   It was one of those rare days in which no matter where I was or what I was doing at any moment, I felt like I was exactly where I should be.  I need more days like that.
 

Let the Preparations Begin!


That’s my counter, waiting for tomorrow.  We are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time in several years, and I expect to be cooking all day.  I hope to have only the turkey to deal with on Thursday.
When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was so comforting, following the same pattern every single year.  We ate dinner at Mima’s at 2 p.m. and supper at Granny’s later on.  At Mima’s there would be turkey and giblet gravy; at Granny’s there would be ham and dumplings.  (And many other things too, of course!)
But divorce, marriages, kids, and deaths have intervened.  We’ve never really come up with a permanent Thanksgiving plan like we had back then.  Thus added to the stress of preparing for the holiday is the stress of deciding where and how it will happen.
We started hosting the dinner before we even had a house big enough to do it, with a table that filled the entire living room of our ratty apartment.  Once we’d moved to the Victorian house, which had a dining room made for that kind of thing, we were the natural hosts and we filled that role for a long time.  My sister and I took turns a couple of times once she had a house.  But for the past couple of years we have gone out to eat and then met later on for homemade desserts.
But if you are a parent you know that kids thrive on tradition and DEMAND that it be followed.  My kids have never approved of this going out to eat on Thanksgiving business.  So this year I am cooking again.
I’m making the turkey, of course (and I plan to document just how I am doing that for my post tomorrow),  the gravy (sorry, Mima, no giblets in mine!), the dressing (I’d like to try something adventurous but when I’ve added craisins or nuts in the past my family members have disapproved), sweet potatoes with marshmallows, mashed potatoes (something we added for John–we never had them growing up), pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and possibly apple pie if I don’t get burned out before then.  And I’ll also be supplying the tea (VERY sweet), the cranberry sauce (the kind that keeps the shape of the can only, please!), and the sweet pickles and olives (because Mima always had them).
My mother is making the rolls and the green beans.  My sister is making casseroles (she is big on casseroles and invents her own recipes) and her mother-in-law is (I think and hope) bringing a ham (I’m the only big ham fan in the family so we never have it; I hope she will leave me some leftovers!).
I feel like I am whining all the time but I do feel just a little melancholy about not having special china and crystal any more.  We used to set a beautiful Thanksgiving table.  That was John’s contribution and he always did a wonderful job.  He even did fancy things with the napkins.  Rather than even attempt to replicate that I think we will be more casual and do buffet style and sit wherever.  It is easier anyway–I used to get so worn out from serving all those plates that I was just about too tired to eat!
What about you?  What’s on your menu for Thursday? What Thanksgiving food can you just not do without?

Thank Heaven for Little Girls

I love sharing pictures of my new house with you and I hope you like seeing how far we’ve come since September.  The reason these postings are few and far between is that the rooms have to be clean before I photograph them (got to keep it Pinterest safe!).
Today’s feature is Lorelei’s room.  Her room makes me really happy because it is a blend of a few salvaged things from our old life and new things that were given with so much love.
I also love it because she’s seven and it’s about time she had a nice room to call her own.  When she was born we still lived in our big Victorian house.  There were four generous bedrooms and one small one–so guess who didn’t have a room of her own?  Not that she cared–she slept in bed with Mommy and Daddy, we kept her clothes in a dresser in William’s room, and her toys were in a basket in the den.  We were excited when we moved to the next house–there was a small room just right for Lorelei.  There were problems, though.  No closet–except for the utility one with the leaky, noisy AC equipment.  Her room was part of what had originally been a mother-in-law apartment, which meant she had to go through Teddy’s room to get to hers–and Teddy did not always want her barging in.  Finally, it was a long way to Mommy in the middle of the night!  Inevitably, she ended up sleeping with us again.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Her room suffered only water and smoke damage, so we saved a few things, some of them quite precious, as you will see in the pictures.
This picture (one of a pair) hung on the wall of my Uncle Walter’s nursery, just about 100 years ago.   My grandmother unearthed them when my little sister was a baby, and they hung in her room throughout her childhood.  When we moved to the Victorian house, we put them in William’s room (he was the baby then).  I don’t even remember why, but they were not hanging up at the time of them fire, but were in a sheltered spot in the basement where they suffered very little damage.  My middle sister had them reframed behind special glass to preserve these treasures and now I have them back–the only family heirloom I have left.

Detail from the picture above

Here’s another picture that made it.  Actually all the pictures on Lorelei’s walls were saved, but most have now been relocated to other ares in the house–including a couple now in the room of their original owner, big sister Emily.
One of the very first people to respond with concrete assistance after the fire was Laura, a friend from law school days whose generosity I wrote of in an earlier post.   Her little girl is growing up and was ready to part with her four poster bed and matching mirror, and her Disney Princess lamp.  And Laura loaded all this up in a U-Haul trailer and drove to and from Nashville (that’s six hours round trip, folks) less than a week after the fire.  Did I mention that we had not even seen her in over ten years?  I hope it won’t be that long until we see her and her family again.

A bed needs a mattress and sheets and pillows and such, of course, and those were provided by friends from church.  They had them ready long before we had a house to set them up in.  Aren’t they pretty?  And other people provided spares, both old and new.
We used an end table (and where it came from I couldn’t say) but we still needed a dresser.  Enter more Good Samaritans!  If you live in Knoxville you’ll have heard of The Brown Squirrel furniture store.  I’ve been hearing the commercials my whole life!  And its owners have kids at KCHS.  Mrs. Matthews came by the house with a notebook and a measuring tape, asking what we still needed.  Within a couple of days, we had a dresser and a rocking chair.

Note the afghan, another treasure salvaged from Lorelei’s room. It’s the one Mima made for Teddy’s crib.

One last piece of furniture rounds out the room–the fanciful bookshelf below, which was a gift to Emily on her–I think–seventh birthday.  I did the best I could, but it’s still a little sooty.  Like so much of the furniture we once had, it came from Myrtle’s Mess.

Oh, and did I mention the closet?  No one likes to think of a little girl having all her pretty clothes burn up.  When it came to donated clothes, Lorelei won the jackpot.  I had friends I’ve never even met in real life mailing her boxes of beautiful things.  So thank goodness that her new room also has a walk-in closet!

Here is Lorelei on her very first night in a new bed in a new room in a new house:

Just don’t ask me where she sleeps now.
 

Easter Blessings

As I’ve written before, I love Easter.  It’s my favorite holiday.

This Easter felt like even a bigger deal than usual to me.  For one thing, all holidays post-fire feel like milestones.  I know what happened to us doesn’t compare to a death in the family, but things are different now.  Not only are we in a new place, but we’ve lost all the trappings of celebrations past–the baskets, the bunnies, the decorations.  Easter has never been about decorating for me, but I do particularly mourn the loss of my three Polish Easter eggs, brought to me from Poland by a Georgetown History Graduate student back in 1990 when I was the secretary of the History Department there.
So the first thing I had to do was use the last of my Target gift cards for an Easter Basket shopping trip.

Jake with the new Easter baskets, waiting for me to finish up at Target

Stress and finances have made inroads into the once annual excursion for new Easter clothes–getting a new Easter dress was practically a religious observance for me well into my college years, and I took great pride in the matching outfits I scored for the three “big kids” when they were small–but this year several of us decided to get some new things.  Jake had a nice suit John bought him last fall, and he and I found an Easter tie (thank you to the giver of the TJMaxx gift card!).  John took Teddy out suit shopping, but finding a suit that would accommodate his large chest and relatively small waist proved impossible, so he ended up with a blazer and pants.  I took Emily dress shopping, and I actually used my own Christmas Kohl’s gift card to get some new things for myself (more on my lack of personal possessions in another post!).  The little people were content with “new to them” items given us after the fire.




I waited a little late (Yikes! the day before!) to go bunny shopping.  It turned into a three-hour odyssey, and in the end finding matching bunnies for four out of five kids (one considers himself past wanting bunnies on Easter) proved impossible.  Lorelei has carried her sheep around every day since, and William was delighted with his possum (to replace one lost in the fire) so I needn’t have worried.


The Easter Bunny brought plenty of candy.  There was much speculation by William and Lorelei on the nature of the Bunny, where he comes from, what he looks like, why he does what he does, and who his “minions” are.  There were also sweet rolls for breakfast.  There are always sweet rolls (hot cross buns, really, only I’m not crafty enough for that so they are just glazed) or cinnamon rolls made from the sweet roll recipe (and I was trying for less mess and stress) on Easter morning.  This was my mother’s tradition, but the glitch this year is that no one has the recipe any more.  I had copied it down years ago in my notebook of special recipes.  My mother lost the original and had taken to calling me if she needed it.  You know what happened to my notebook.  I couldn’t find the exact recipe online.  Between the two of us we figured it out–they tasted like they were supposed to!
Easter Mass is the greatest celebration of the Church year.  We made sure to arrive early–in fact we were so early we had to wait outside for the previous Mass to finish up!  But that was okay because we were treated to an Easter Parade as folks exited, and we got to talk to the people who go to ten o’clock Mass!  The Church looked beautiful, and we sang the right songs.

 
We’ve had guests over many times since we moved–four birthday celebrations and a Christmas Open House–but we had not yet hosted a holiday dinner.  We went out on Thanksgiving, and my sister did Christmas.  We had not hosted a holiday dinner for quite some time, actually–the last time was two Easters ago, at our then-new house, the house which is now burned down.  We were so happy and hopeful that day, with no way of knowing either the very bad or the very good things that were headed our way.
Anyway, I decided Easter would be a relatively stress-free way to begin our turn at holiday hosting.  We made a rule that no one could bring more than two things.  My mother brought fried chicken and angel biscuits.   My sister Anne (Betsy and her husband were not with us this year) brought macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes.  I made baked beans, green beans, and sickeningly sweet tea–just the way we all like it.  Emily made lemon bars and mint juleps.  My father and stepmother brought a butter pecan cake.  Anne’s mother-in-law brought a ham.  And even Lorelei made some cookies (with Jake’s help).   All together there were 18 of us for dinner!  We did it buffet style and it went smoothly and was delicious.
Of course Easter would not be Easter for the little people without an Easter egg hunt.
photo credit: Emily Sholly

It was a truly blessed Easter.  How was yours?

Cat People

This morning, the first thing on the agenda is to take Mace to the vet for his first set of shots.  Mace is one of three now half-grown kittens who adopted us when we moved here.

Jake holding the first kitten to appear

We didn’t start off being cat people.  John never had a cat growing up.  In fact, he SAID he didn’t like cats.  Certainly, he was allergic to them (dogs, too).  My family had one cat when I was growing up–only because my little sister begged.  Celeste was a part of the family for 17 years, but we felt like she was an exception.  She was not like the other cats.
We never made a decision to own a cat, either.  Cat ownership was thrust upon us when Rosemary appeared on our deck, homeless and expecting kittens, when Teddy was a baby.  She stayed 15 years.  Mima urged us to keep her.  Children should have pets, she said.  She’d pay for all of it, she said.  She did, and we did.  Rosemary was a sweet, undemanding, affectionate cat.  For a time, we had a companion for her, another stray–a fat furry black and white creature named Tosco–but they never got along well and when he wandered off one day and did not return no one missed him much.
Rosemary disappeared one day shortly before we moved to the house that burned down.  She’d been gone for a few days before, but this time she didn’t come back.  I still miss her.
Lorelei and William decided they each wanted a kitten of their own.  I did not consent to this.  John and Emily between them brought home two kittens from Emily’s roommate’s cat.  Both were supposed to be girls; both turned out to be boys.  Carrying on a theme, we named them Pepper and Parsley.
Watching those two grow up was a joy.  They had so much fun playing together.  We had five acres of woods behind the house and it was a wonderful playground for them.  Wildlife abounded, and Parsley was a merciless hunter, killing something just about every day.
Those cats were spoiled rotten.  They ruled the house.  Rosemary was rarely inside.  Those two had windows open so they could come and go as they pleased.  They slept right in the bed with us.  I posted so many pictures of them on Facebook I embarrassed myself.
Lorelei in my bed with her kitten, Pepper.

Under the tree

Spoiled Rotten

Brotherly Love

After the fire, we never saw Pepper and Parsley again.  Pepper hadn’t been seen that day.  Parsley was in the house when the boys left at 4 p.m.  By ten, the house was in flames.  There was a window open for Parsley, of course.  We hope the fire scared them, that they ran into the woods, that when they came back to a foul-smelling blackened shell and we weren’t there, they found someone else to love them and take care of them.  That’s what we hope.
Lorelei and William didn’t care about the house.  They didn’t care about their toys.  All the cried about was their kittens.
So it seemed like God had a hand in sending those three little kittens to our porch only a few days after we moved in:  Cicely for Lorelei, Mace for William, and Mr. Kimutis (after his religion teacher) for Jake.  They will never replace Pepper and Parsley, but they are sweet and loving and have helped us heal.
First night

Eating us out of house and home

It's a bed if we say it's a bed

Saying her prayers

Drying off after getting caught in the rain

Just pitiful