Sunday, March 30, 2014

Leave it to the Government, Part 2

Here's just a brief update on my Obamacare experience.  I know lots of people are trying to navigate their way through the new healthcare landscape, so maybe this information will help.

I enrolled in a plan, but I couldn't find any way to pay for it.  The healthcare.gov site told me to expect someone to contact me "within a few days."  I got an email instructing me to call a certain number.  Bingo! That's what I was waiting for!  I called and the lady had a good amount of my information already.  She wanted more of my health details.  Although I'm normally very cautious about that sort of thing, I went into "dealing with the government" mode and just answered the questions.  It wasn't until we started to get to the end of the call that I realized she wasn't actually associated with my chosen health plan and couldn't do anything to help my current situation.  I don't really know who I was talking to or what her job was.  I think her title was something like "healthcare advisor."  I did a panic-stricken mental review of the info I had given her.  No SSN, no credit card number.  I am still keeping a close eye on my accounts and so on.  This health care debacle is an identity thief's dream.  There's so much confusion, so little information, and so many people involved, how can consumers be sure they're talking to the right people?

At any rate, figuring that I wouldn't be covered if I hadn't paid a premium, I went back to the drawing board.  I called my health insurance broker (she's helped our family find the best insurance options ever since Bryan struck out on his own with his business) and explained my situation.  She was able to get me set up with insurance that was pretty much what I'd had before.  It's "off the marketplace," meaning it's not a healthcare.gov plan.  I pay about $120 a month and have a $3600 a year deductible.  This plan might not work for everyone- there were a couple of health conditions that might have been excluded- but it covered me, in spite of my MS.

Unlike what I saw on the Obamacare plans, after I've hit my deductible, my plan covers everything.  There's no separate deductible for medications, no 80/20 up to $15K or anything like that.  If you do sign up for a healthcare.gov plan, PLEASE be sure that you have a trusted broker go over all the details with you.  There are so many bumps and hiccups in all of this that it's impossible, I think, for the average consumer to make a good decision without guidance.  Many doctors aren't covered.  Some medications aren't covered.  Think of it this way: Our health care is now as complicated as our taxes, except that if you make a mistake on your taxes, you could get audited.  If you make a mistake on your health care, you might find yourself in a life-threatening situation.

Here's what I'm dealing with now, though: I'm having a terrible time getting UNenrolled from the other plan.  When I first enrolled, I tried calling to pay.  Then I tried calling back to unenroll.  I was on hold for over an hour each time and ended up hanging up.  I've called once more with the same result.

This experience has made me even more concerned about what the recent changes are doing to America's healthcare system.  You see, I wasn't calling the government.  I was calling Blue Cross Blue Shield.  I had their insurance for ten years before Bryan died.  I always got through right away when I called before.  Now, they're just swamped.  My broker is reporting two and three hour hold times, despite the fact that she has "priority."

UPDATE: I did succeed in getting unenrolled from the marketplace plan.  Apparently, if you don't pay long enough, they'll drop you!  They were very nice about it.  Sounds like it's happening frequently.

So March 31st is the last day for open enrollment on healthcare.gov (though it sounds like extensions are being granted).  Take your time, do some research, and find what works for you.  Call someone who knows what they're talking about.  And, above all, just don't get sick!


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Wacky Wednesday

I have been planning a "Day in the Life" post for awhile.  I always love reading about other people's ordinary days, so I thought I'd do a post on one of our ordinary days.

We, apparently, don't have ordinary days.

This past Wednesday, for example, wasn't ordinary, except, I suppose, for the fact that it, like all of our other days, was peppered with anything and everything out-of-the-ordinary.

Like most of our days, the events actually started the evening before.  Steffen brought me my phone, and I saw that there was a little water under the Otterbox screen.  He must have splashed some water on it.  I took it out of its case, cleaned and dried it off, and then popped it back in.  After the kids went to bed, I realized that the phone's flashlight was on.  And it wouldn't turn off.  I figured there was some secret setting that I was missing, and I didn't want to wake Nathan up to fix it, so I just buried it under a book so that the light wouldn't keep me awake and went to sleep.

At four the next morning, my alarm went off.  When I tried to swipe it to turn it off, I couldn't get the phone to unlock.  All I could do was tap the side button to make it snooze.  At that point, I saw that the phone was once again wet.  Uh-oh.  Maybe it hadn't gotten "splashed" after all.  This was looking like an all-out dunking.  Nine minutes later, the alarm went off again.  Hit snooze.  Nine minutes later, same procedure.  I decided to turn the phone off.  No luck.  That thing wasn't going to be turned off.  I tried turning the volume down.  Nope.  That didn't work either.  Nine minutes later, alarm, hit snooze, and so on.

By six o'clock, I was seriously considering smashing the phone.  But I was determined to see if it could be fixed before taking any drastic measures.

At six-thirty, I realized I had forgotten to print the kids' assignment sheets the night before.  (We go to a university model school.  The kids go to school two days a week and then do assigned homework on the other days.  Teachers post the assignments on a website and parents print them off at home.)  Usually, I print assignments a week ahead so that I know what's coming, but I had been sick the week before, so I was still playing catch up.  Normally, printing all the kids' assignments takes ten minutes.  Unfortunately, the company that manages the assignment website had made some changes overnight.  Every assignment for every child had to be clicked on and printed (or cut and pasted into another document) individually.

It took me forty-five minutes to get all of their assignments together.  (I am still not actually sure if I got every assignment on their sheets.)

I was now really behind.  I don't schedule anything extra on Wednesdays unless I am left with no other choice.  This particular Wednesday fell into that category, and two of my boys had appointments that morning, and they had to be dressed decently.  I went to make sure the kids knew to start on breakfast and then school while I ironed the boys' clothes.  And, of course, at that very moment, an entire bowl of cereal got spilled in the middle of the kitchen.  I cleaned it up, made toast to replace that serving of cereal, and started laughing.

"Well, this day can't go anywhere but up!" I told the kids.

Not true, my friends, not true.

We had a "my shoes don't fit and I hate all dress clothes of every kind" meltdown.  I still managed to get the boys to their appointments on time, and we even did a good amount of school while we were waiting.

That, however, was pretty much all of the school that got done that morning.  All of the other kids were distracted and all of the morning chaos had, it seemed, rendered their brains useless.  I did my best to get everyone back on track and reminded them that their long-awaited Sonic dinner reward was going to take place that very night.

Over the course of the morning, I had taken my phone to the repair shop where they informed me that the damage was probably too extensive to make a repair worth it, especially since the phone was a few years old.  Sigh.  I spent a few minutes mapping out a new battle plan for the afternoon, including a trip to the AT&T store to get new phone.  The battle plan was beautiful.  This day was going to turn out okay after all.

And it would have if it hadn't been for the general unwillingness of the soldiers to follow the plan.

I did get my phone.  (Nathan persuaded me to ditch my iPhone in favor of a Galaxy S4.  Excellent choice so far.)  School, however, wasn't going as successfully.  You see, my kids are assigned the same amount of homework to complete Wednesday as they have over the entire weekend.  That means that we have absolutely no margin for error on Wednesdays.  And since "errors" are the name of the game for just about every day at our house, Wednesdays have a tendency to become disaster days nearly every week.

By three o'clock, I was "fit to be tied," as they say.  I made it quite clear that, until every last assignment was done, the next bottom that moved off of a chair for any reason was going to be grounded.  We did manage to get school done, but the house looked like it had been through hours of a two-preschooler-free-for-all.  I told the kids we needed to clean up quickly so that I could pick up Whataburger and get to AWANA on time.

And it was at this point that I realized I had made a critical mistake.  I had promised the kids Sonic.  A couple of kids had told me they'd rather have Whataburger.  I figured one carcinogenic meal was as good as another, so I said sure.  But what I didn't know was that two of my children think Whataburger is "disgusting."  I was faced with a major meltdown of epic proportions.  I tried to turn back the clock.  We'd revert to Sonic.  No dice.  Two of the kids think Sonic is "disgusting."  I tried convincing them that it's all disgusting, so it really doesn't matter.  I told them they needed to work out a compromise.  They made about as much progress on that as Congress.

Finally, I saw that there was no way these kids could have their reward that night.  The fits were too loud, too disrespectful, and too ungrateful to warrant any sort of treat.  That unfortunately meant that the non-fit-throwers had to suffer right alongside the guilty, but that's life.  I sat them down individually and told them that the reward would come at the end of a good day, a happy day, a pleasant day.

After they became convinced that I wasn't going to change my mind, everyone calmed down slightly.  The house was set, if not exactly to rights, at least in some semblance of order.  We got to AWANA on time, and we pulled ourselves together enough when we got home to get lunches and backpacks packed for the next day.

And, just after the kids went to bed, the battery on my old phone FINALLY died and the alarm stopped going off every nine minutes.  Peace reigned supreme at last.

At least until the next morning.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Mission: Organization

Happy February!

I spent December and January pulling this family out of survival mode.  I'm pleased to report that we're starting to find our footing and feel more settled.

This wonderful turnaround has been largely accomplished with a Mission: Organization.  We've engaged in these missions before.  I got the idea from a friend who teaches organization workshops.  I think humans, for the most part, operate better when things are orderly.  In a large family, organization isn't a luxury, it's a necessity.  The more people you're trying to get moving in the same direction, the more structure you need to reach your goals and get where you want to be.

And everyone knows things don't just stay in place.  They have a way of surrendering to the law of entropy.  Legos get stuffed in kitchen cabinets.  Pens end up in the toy bins.  Socks land in the t-shirt bin.  And this...


can turn into this...


in a hurry.  (Austin has no idea how that happened.)

So, I've come to realize that regular missions are necessary to maintain order.  Once we've got good systems in place, these missions can be just short, targeted strikes against mess, but sometimes, if things have been especially crazy or we've had major upheaval to our life (like a move or a new school), we have to put some serious boots on the ground to get our house and schedule back on track.

There are different ways to go about organizing.  I usually like to tackle a room at a time.  Here are my Mission: Organization steps:


  • Set aside a few days and cancel other things.  Plan easy meals.  Get everybody revved up about it.  (Or at least let them know what's coming.)
  • Throw stuff away.  LOTS of stuff.  Nearly all of us could live with 1/3 of what we have.  The more stuff, the more mess.  I tell my kids constantly that the more they have, the more they'll have to clean.
  • Have piles for Goodwill and piles to sell, if you're the selling type.  I used to be, but I don't have the time anymore.  I take clothes in good shape (read: Megan's clothes) to resale shops, but other than that, it all goes to Goodwill.
  • Start with the closets and work your way out.
  • Drag everything out, throw away as much you can, and only keep what you need.  Seeing all the stuff out in the open is usually a shock to the system.
  • Growing up an Air Force brat, it seems like if you had more than your allotted weight of stuff to move, you were charged $1/pound to ship the rest of the stuff.  When faced with an item (or a group of items) that I can't part with, I ask myself if I'd pay $1/pound to ship it.  I'm cheap, so the answer's usually no.  And then I get rid of it.
  • Sort things in a way that makes sense to whomever is going to be in charge of putting it away.  The younger the person, the simpler the system.  (The less the person cares about tidiness, the simpler the system.)
  • Label things.  I have neglected this in our new kitchen, and I have to get around to doing that soon.  I can't hold the kids responsible for where they're putting things if I haven't taken the time to label.  Note to self:  My family cannot read my mind.
  • Don't bring in new junk to take the place of the old junk.  Once again, I'm cheap, and every time I get rid of stuff we're not using, I just see it as a colossal waste of money.  (Except, of course, in the case of items which served a good purpose but just aren't needed anymore.)  
These take care of the "stuff" in our home, but I find that the most important organization I do in our family is the time I spend evaluating what's working and what's not and getting routines and thoughts out on paper.  The only way to quit dealing entirely in the realm of the urgent is to start planning ahead and figuring out how to take care of things before they become crises.  

People are often curious about the strategies that I use to keep our family going.  I might post more on that later- I do spend a lot of time thinking through these things.  From this "brain work" comes chore charts (you're welcome, kids!) and routines and processes that get us back on track.  And back on track is a great place to be.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Road Map

About a year after Bryan died, I did a post reflecting on the grieving process, and I said that I'd be posting some more thoughts on that over the next week or two.  Week, months- it's all the same, right?

This might be a little overdue for me, but I hope that it comes at just the right moment for someone else.

One of the challenges that I had early on in the grieving process was feeling a little lost.  Grieving is by its nature a messy process, but I knew that the God who promised to give us "all things that pertain to life and godliness" (1 Pet. 1:3) had to have something to say about how to grieve well.  There are people who allow circumstances to destroy them, to make them bitter, to give them an excuse for every other problem they fail to overcome.  There's no guarantee that suffering will create a stronger person.

So, where was the road map?  Where was God's divine example on how to grieve in a way that forms good character, a way that pushes us further in our journey to maturity?

Job.  The road map for grief is in the book of Job.

People talk a lot about Job.  We reference the "patience of Job" especially.  But there's a lot more to the story.  First, there's the why: Job had it all- family, home, health, possessions- and God allowed it to be taken away, just to test him.  Job didn't lose it all because of his sin; he lost it because God was letting everyone see that Job would still be the same man without all of it.

Then, there are the well-meaning friends.  Job's friends hurt for him.  They wanted to see him get over this thing and move on.  They all had answers.  Most of what they said was good, sound theology.  Much of it was beautiful.  ("Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects...For he bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole.  He shall deliver you in six troubles, yes, in seven no evil shall touch you." 5:17-18)  And they were all wrong.  Their timing was off, and they didn't understand God's purpose any better than Job did.  Incidentally, Job wins the award for best sarcastic response in the Bible, when he disdainfully replies to his friends, "Surely you are the people, and wisdom will die with you!" (12:2)

Job even had trouble grieving with family members.  We tend to be a little hard on Job's wife, but, remember, she lost everything too.  And her response was very different than Job's.  She wanted him to let go of his integrity.  Surely their troubles warranted that.  They were suffering.  He was sick and in pain.  She spoke out of anger and bitterness and told him to "Curse God and die."  And in those four words we have an example of how to grieve poorly.  Perhaps Job's reply helped his grieving wife to gain the proper perspective and mindset: "Shall we indeed accept good from God and shall we not accept adversity?"  (2:9-10)  Everyone grieves differently, and many take out their anger on those closest to them.  It's tough, but families have to stick together during hard times.  At the end of the journey, no one wants to look around and find himself estranged from everyone he once held dear.

The most important part of any map, though, is the crossroad.  As long as the journey is heading on a straight path, the map isn't very necessary.  But, when faced with two options, we'd better know which road leads to our desired destination.

For most of the book, God lets Job go.  He complains, he protests his innocence, he asks why.  In a word, he mourns his loss.  But then comes chapter 38.  It's the crossroad.  God speaks, and Job has a decision to make.

"Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: 
'Who is this who darkens counsel
by words without knowledge?
Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?'"
Job 38:1-4

God says, "Enough."  And Job must decide.  Does he cling to his argument?  After all, God never said in His reply that Job deserved what he got.  He just talked about His omnipotence and Job's humanity.  Should Job just say, "But, LORD, You were wrong."  In other words, does Job take the path of pride and bitterness and anger?  Or does he choose the path of surrender?

Job, of course, chooses surrender:  "I raise my hand over my mouth."  But many of us fail to make that choice.  We continue on the path of bitterness and some even turn against the LORD in their anger.  I'll say it again: Suffering does not guarantee a stronger character.  What we allow suffering to do to us depends on the choice we make at the crossroads.  

When you reach the crossroad, choose surrender.  Choose hope.  

"Now the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning."
Job 42:12

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

"Mom, can we all stay up till midnight?  Please!"


Two of my guys didn't quite make it, but the rest of us toasted 2014 together at the stroke of 12!


Austin had prepared himself to stay up by taking a good nap.  I was still surprised that he made it, but he is a little bundle of energy, so maybe I shouldn't have been.

I love New Year's.  New beginnings, new goals- it's one of my favorite holidays.  There's something so exciting about a fresh start.  It doesn't even matter if this year's resolutions are just dusted off versions of last year's abandoned ones.  It's a new year- anything's possible!

New Year's also gives me some time to reflect on the last year.  And what a year 2013 was for our household! New house, new city, new church, new job, new school.  It's been a year of starting again and settling into our new lives.  As the kids and I talked about all that had changed, we all agreed that the changes have been good ones.  There are things that we miss, but we feel established and we're all happy.

I don't think I would have believed last New Year's that we'd be doing so well and have come so far in only 12 months.  The Lord has truly been good to us.  Trials don't last forever, and though the road is still steep, we're getting better at hiking it every day.

Happy New Year, everyone!  And may God's grace cover you as you walk through 2014.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Survival Mode

Here it is.  Visual proof that I have been living in survival mode:



That's our sukkah, still up at Hanukkah.  That is, I believe, the biblical holiday equivalent of still having your Christmas tree up at Easter.

So, I've been a little busy lately.

A lot busy.  In fact, it's funny to actually look back at the life I used to characterize as "busy."  I clearly had no idea what I was talking about.

I've done survival mode before, especially after babies were born, but never for this length of time.  When I'm in survival mode, I deal strictly with the urgent.  ("Mom, Austin has pulled off his diaper again!"  "Mom, I can't find my..."  "We're out of peanut butter!")  In the back of my head, I have a firm belief that there's something, some process or method or something that I can figure out to make my life more efficient and I will suddenly find myself with time to blink, or at least breathe.  (Does anyone know where the Jetson's got that robot and those meal pills?)  As the months went by this time, though, I started to be afraid that no amount of time management implementation was going to put us on the road to serenity anytime soon.

I have found over the course of the last twelve years that any life change has the potential to force me into survival mode.  I've come, in fact, to expect it.  When a family has a new baby, moves, or faces medical or other issues, the routine is disrupted and things that worked before just don't work anymore.  And often, when the dust settles, life itself has changed.  I've learned that most of those changes require a new normal.  Rarely has a "survival mode" incident been followed by a return to things the way they were before.  New times require new strategies.

Fortunately for my family, I like strategizing!  I find the challenge of logistics invigorating.  I recently came across a "flow chart" of sorts that I had put together about seven years ago.  Justin was a tiny baby, Nathan had just started formal homeschooling, and we were living in a construction zone in an old home we were renovating.  There were problems to be solved, challenges to be overcome.  (My flow chart indicated that the key to calm out of chaos was "get up earlier.")

I am happy to report that, in our present survival mode experience, we are slowly but surely pulling ourselves out of it (the sukkah is down!)  Things are starting to take on a routine, and I'm starting to feel more on top of things.  We aren't drowning in laundry, we've finally hit on a school schedule to bring sanity to our at-home school days, and the house is starting to take on a more orderly appearance.  That makes mom happy, and when mom is happy, everyone's happy.

And a happy mom can laugh and take pictures when the boys pull something like this:


(That's mud.  Note to self:  Move getting backyard sodded to top of list.)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Leave it to the Government

Well, I have experienced a first.  I have waited in line, online.  Yes, my friends, I went to healthcare.gov again and this time, instead of clicking away on the "create account" button to no avail, I got a message informing me that I was waiting in line.  They called it a "queue," perhaps hoping that the British accent would make it sound more intelligent.  It would seem that the government wants to make sure that visitors to the site get the full bureaucratic experience, lines and all.

Obamacare is a mess.  I suppose that's not news to most people, but I'm not just making a statement, I am living the mess right now.

I am a poster-child for Obamacare.  Single mom, seven kids, un-insurable pre-existing condition, employer doesn't provide health coverage.  I currently pay $115 a month for $3500 a year deductible "catastrophic" insurance for myself.  But that policy is going away January 1st and I need something to replace it.  (The kids are already completely covered.)

Enter healthcare.gov.  I made my first visit to the site with some trepidation.  I had been hearing that the rollout wasn't going as well as planned.  But I'm an optimist.  I'm certain it will work for me!  So, after putting all my kids in bed, I settle myself in front of the computer and prepare to start the enrollment process.

I click the create account button.  Nothing.  Click.  Click.  No error message.  Nothing.  Should I call?  Is the problem on my end?  I'll call.  After the required bureaucratic messages, I get through to a live human.  Her voice sounds suspiciously like a recording.  She stumbles over a word in her script.  Ok, maybe she is real.

There are a lot of people visiting the site, she says, that's why I can't create an account.  How about I just fill the enrollment form out with her and then I can create my online account later?

How long will it take?  About 10 minutes.  I doubt that, but I sigh and dig in.  What information do I need to have?  Just name, address, social security number.  I doubt that too.  I know bureaucracy.  There's no way this is going to be ten minutes and three pieces of information.  But I'm committed.  Let's go.

After 20 minutes, she's managed to get my name, address and phone number.  She begins to list the kids, even though they don't need insurance, because the government needs to have a list of everyone on my tax return.  She never deviates from her monotone-bureaucratic-recorded voice, even as the number of children grows.  When I finally tell her that Austin is the last, she says she is going to place me on hold for a minute.  So she is human after all.  I know she is telling her colleagues, "This lady is crazy.  She has seven kids!!!" Glad I could relieve the monotony of her existence for a brief moment.

After an excruciating 56 minutes of answering questions and pulling paperwork out of files, Miss Monotone drones, "Your healthcare application has now been completed..."

Yes!

"Unfortunately..."

No!

"your application cannot be submitted because our verification system is currently down.  You are welcome to log in to your account at healthcare.gov and submit it there."

"But I don't have a healthcare.gov account.  That's why I called you.  I can't create an account."

"We encourage you to keep trying."

And so it goes.  That exchange took place a month ago.  I have since managed to make it through the line, create an account and even enroll.  For a mere $203 a month ($88 more than I'm paying now) I can get a policy with a $6350 deductible.

Here's the catch, though, I haven't managed to actually PAY for my policy, which, of course, means that I do not, in fact, have a policy for next year.  No premium payment, no coverage.  But the "pay for policy" button on the healthcare.gov site doesn't work!  I was instructed to contact the insurance company directly if they didn't contact me in "a few days."  I've tried.  No dice. Can't get through.

As far as I'm concerned, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

Where's Ronald Reagan when you need him?