Monday, March 31, 2014

It Didn't Have To Be That Way, BCBSAZ

I was wrong.  I didn't pay attention to the paperwork.  I made a mistake.  I'm happy to admit it.  I just wish someone had brought it to my attention in a less distasteful fashion.

BlueCross/BlueShield/Arizona raised our premiums by about 11%.  I received a letter notifying me of the change last Fall. I was stunned by the amount and the rate and I never got further down the page.

The date at which the change became effective eluded me.  I assumed they were telling me in October to give me a chance to examine my other options under the ACA before the price went up in my birthday month, February.  I would turn 62 then; I assumed that was a magic number for my insurer. Nothing else could justify such an egregious increase in monthly premiums.

I groused and I investigated but it seems that this is what it costs to insure two relatively healthy older adults in Tucson these days.  In February, I edited the automatic payment function at Compass Bank's online consumer center, and that was when the trouble began.

I received a letter late in the month, informing me that I had not paid my bill, that BCBSAZ was holding any claims for services and that my coverage would be cancelled if I didn't pay immediately.

After panicking, I went to the online banking center and reassured myself that, in fact, the payment had been made early in the month.  It reflected the new, higher amount.  I began to breathe normally, and chalked it all up to a computer glitch on the insurer's part.  The payment might have crossed with the letter; I hadn't opened it until a week or more after it had arrived in the mailbox.  Anything important comes to me via email these days.  Certainly there was nothing about the envelope which  warranted immediate attention.

On Friday, there was, once again, an envelope from BCBSAZ in my mailbox.  This time, I opened it immediately.  It was the same letter as last month.

I went straight to the bank's website and then to the phone.  I bypassed panic altogether; I moved straight to pissed off.  More than peeved, less than furious, more ornery than annoyed.... I was pissed.  Poor Shannon (not her real name) answered my call.....


after much too much time had been spent listening to loud Muzak interspersed with commercials for products and services which held no interest for me.  I tried to put it on speaker so that it wasn't up in my ear canal but TBG was watching tv and it was too loud for him.... in the next room... down the hall.....

and there was no escape, despite the fact that the voices told me to press 0 to speak to a representative.  I did.  Nothing happened.  The Muzak didn't change; the commercials remained the same; no mention was made of my place in a queue waiting for a human to answer my question... nothing.... except music I didn't like and ads I tried to ignore.

By the time Shannon began to speak, I had tuned out the sounds from the receiver to background noise.  When I heard her name, I perked up and paid attention.... but she'd gone quiet. 

"Are you going to put me on hold?"

"No.  Why would I put you on hold?"

"God only knows."  That was the state to which I had been reduced, lost in voice mail hell, feeling unloved and unappreciated and getting more and more pissed off by the minute. 

There had been a lot of minutes.

I explained my problem, she told me that the price had gone up in October, that I had underpaid and then correctly paid and that correct payment sent the system into shock and it paid itself back and then found that I was in arrears and I agreed that I was wrong and I went to online banking and made a catch-up payment and through all this solving and resolving neither one of us could figure out why it took BCBSAZ all this time to let me know that I was making a mistake.

It would have been easily rectified.  I would not have been thrown into a panic.  I'd have chastised myself for being negligent and I'd have moved on.  None of you would have been the wiser.  By choosing to telling me that our health insurance coverage .... will end on the date (our) payment was due, that date being three weeks prior to the receipt of the letter informing me of the problem, BCBSAZ chose to threaten.

It felt awful.  I was scared when I should have been abashed.  There was no need for that.
As Shannon and I were talking, I realized that I'd never considered my options through the ACA.  It never occurred to me that I could be a consumer of health insurance, that I could have options, that perforations and pre-existing-broken-body-parts would not preclude those pieces from coverage, that I ought to look around. 

"I have choices, now, you know." And Shannon paused, and agreed.  I'd always thought of BlueCross as the gold standard of policies.  Customer service has been quick and bright and helpful.... right up until now.  The notion that I might leave gave me a shiver of delight.  The power... the control... the sense of self-worth.

That's what pissed me off about the whole thing - it was so disrespectful. Poor Shannon had to listen.

I was over the top but I was also right; that's a dangerous combination for someone with my up-bringing.  Channeling Daddooooo results in nothing but angst on both sides of the interaction. These days, I try to imagine Little Cuter's smiling face and gentle tone... and sometimes it even manages to break through sixty some years of conditioning. 

Shannon helped me get through to the other side; by the time we hung up I was looking for contact person to whom I could send a complimentary note. She spelled the name, and I repeated it.  I looked on the letterhead for the address....and there was none. 

Even Shannon had to laugh.

It's such a simple thing to fix: provide an estimated wait time for the caller; offer a call-back option; change the message when I press 0; inform me as soon as the payments go awry.

Calling yourselves the Member Concierge Department is a nice touch, but it's no substitute for respectful and timely communications.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Jump Rope for Heart

Miss Goldman, P.E. instructor extraordinaire,
had the whole school out on the playground this morning......
 including the principal. 
It was the Annual Jump Rope for Heart Field Day.
As Prince's Official Adopted Grandmother, I was an honored guest.
There were non-competitive games on the grass,
but this year I stayed on the cement, watching,
along with those astonished boys,
 as a teacher showed her stuff.
She wasn't the only one having a good time.
Some held one end of the rope for those in line
watching as amazing things happened
The kid really had hops
Yes, he's on his fingertips.
And this one is inches off the ground while flipping the rope and jumping.
Other girls were jumping, too,
even if their clothing was often less than hospitable to the activity
She didn't let tradition get in the way of fun.
She jump-walked all around the concrete.
Next year, this one will wear sneakers: 
There was attitude in abundance
although some of it turned to shyness when approached
There was much preparation


And there was much jumping. 


It was a wonderful morning.
There were two members of the Amphitheatre School Board sharing the joy.
"It seems these kids give as much to you as you do to them."
Truer words have never been spoken. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Perils of Not Moving

I realized the futility of the situation over the weekend.  No matter how hard I try, there will always be piles of stuff in my house.

They may be contained on the newly-cleared-and-almost-all-put-away desktop.... the real life desk top, not the one on my computer.  Actually, I probably shouldn't have brought that up, since the icons on my desktop include wedding planning (the event was in 2012) and several shortcuts to the same empty New Folder.

They occupy the corners of my garage, and the theoretically-open-spaces where the garbage and recycling bins reside.  Some of them are items meant for those cans; they must have arrived when the cans were full or out on the street.  It's not trash, for that would smell.  This morning, though, I noticed a pile of papers which are of no further use to us.  I suppose I should have bent down and put them in the bin.

That's what happens.  I see a mess and I recognize the mess and I shrug my shoulders.  An organizing web site I visited suggested that I retrain myself to act if it will take two minutes or less, and I've had some small successes with that approach.  I am lacking consistency, and therein lies the problem.

JannyLou and Fast Eddie have a lovely view of our third garage door, the one for the golf cart which I've repurposed as my potting shed and GRIN's storage shelves.  I've had irrigation issues and planting sessions and run two GRIN events.  Those facts are obvious to the naked eye. 

It's not that there aren't places for these items to go.  I created them when I established this outpost.  It's just that by the time I'm done squatting and re-tubing and carrying and lifting I'm too exhausted to take the time to bend and lift and shake out and put away.  I should probably stop working ten minutes before I hit total fatigue, but that's not my nature. 

And so, the piles sit.

I picked up almost everything from my closet floor last week, although you'd never know it by what is there right now.  I'm giving away socks and piling up winter clothes to wait for me in Little Cuter's Illinois basement and I have all these Georgetown sweatshirts which I never wear because it's never cold enough here in Arizona and they are all piled, not-quite neatly, on the floor.... alongside the vacuum bags in which I plan to store or dispose of them.

Even when it should be easy for me, I don't seem to do it.

My parents weren't like this. I don't remember my mother picking up after me so I must not have been like this when I was young.  I wish there were someone around to tell me if this is an skill I acquired late in life, but, alas, all those grown-ups are laughing at me from Heaven right now.

I know they are laughing, because it's absolutely ridiculous.  Five minutes twice a day would probably solve the problem, once I reach a state of equilibrium between the mess and the available storage.  That doesn't seem unmanageable to me. 

Now, all I need to do is get there.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Feeling the Love

I went to Miss Levine's kindergarten class today.  Can you feel the smile on my face?  It's about to break my cheekbones.

I've known four of her classes. They have all been filled with love and joy and wonder. Some were more well-behaved than others.  Some were quieter and some noisier and some just couldn't settle down.  The current crop is simply amazing.

I was there for Writing Centers.  Divided into groups of four, the students spend fifteen minutes on the computer, on the iPads, with their journals, or reading aloud with the teacher or the reading specialist.  The timer dings, and they move seamlessly between clusters of desks.  There's no pushing or carousing; there is work to be done and they are there to do it.

These are five and six year olds, many of who have English as a second language, and some, barely that.  Few have English speaking home lives.  Some began the year with no English at all.  Yet, today, I they read me stories they had written, with words covering the front and back of their papers.  No one, it seemed, had heard of writer's block.

Their sentences had capital letters at the start and proper punctuation at the end.  Some asked questions as part of their narratives, others repeated the same phrases, changing the characters as they went along.  Some could not remember what word the combination of letters they had written were supposed to convey, and the many different spellings of outer space made me cover more than one grin.  I had to keep reminding myself that this was kindergarten.

I brought a book of 346 stickers, and I decorated the students as they came to the station at which I had parked.  They were awarded randomly, for achievement and for smiles and just because.  they went on cheeks and sweatshirts and the backs of hands.  Moustaches resided on upper lips - of the girls - and sharks and anemones floated in pastel glory on the boys' sweatshirts.  They chose what they liked, gender free and easy.

We sat on the floor and read the Pirate ABC's, and when Pirate Pete had to Pee the laughter was uproarious.  Yes, as Miss Levine reminded us, we all pee every day. Still, it was silly to have it in a book at school, and we couldn't stop giggling.  They couldn't get close enough to me, and I couldn't reach my arms around tight enough to hug them all.  It was marvelous.

I closed my eyes as they lined up, and we complimented one another and Miss Levine and then they touched the Word of the Day (come) as they whispered it softly to my waiting ear.  Then they went to lunch and I drove off, my heart full.

It's impossible to have a bad day when surrounded by young love.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Meditation 102

I wish I understood the physiology behind mindful meditation.  I can feel that its effects are real.  I just don't understand how it happens.

I was delayed at Michael's, caught up in the multiplicity of choices for FlapJilly's crocheted layettes.  If anyone is looking for a project, creating an attractive pink yarn might be right at the top of your list.  The skeins in the bins this afternoon were harsh, or rough or paler-than-pale; nothing jumped out and said buy me.  So, I wandered up and down the aisles, fondling and cogitating and then it was seventeen minutes until I had to be in the Kewitt Auditorium, prepared to commune with myself. 

I checked out with what was in my cart.  I'll figure out what to make with it later on.

Leaving my car with the free valet parking service at the UAMC main entrance, hugging the woman who took my family's cars while I was an in-patient and who took mine when I was able to drive to my own appointments and who is always impressed with the progress I am making, I strode across the sidewalk and up the ramp and across the plaza.

I strode. 

It's taken me three years of rehab to be able to type that sentence. I entered the auditorium filled with pleasant surprise.  I grabbed a small afghan, remembering how cool the room feels after sitting quietly for a while, put my legs in half-lotus, my hands in Anjali mudra, and I began to breathe.  My eyes were down-cast, not quite closed.  I tried to shut out the bustling of the others as I settled into my chair.

The back rest is movable.  I didn't realize that.  Starting over after my momentary discombobulation, I recognized a smile on my face.  The uncertainty of an unstable resting space had not sent me spiraling into PTSD; that's a first in a long while.  There was something in the room, an aura, an energy, that was healing and comforting and safe.  I may have lost my balance, but I was still centered.

The social worker described the practice, asked for questions, looked for comments about meditation-and-the-wee-just-past, and then we closed our eyes and breathed.  Fifteen minutes went by in a flash; I didn't have a chance to become bored or uncomfortable.  My mind wandered, but I didn't judge.  I felt the breath on the back of my throat, I felt my eyelids resting gently on my eyeballs, and I was at peace.

It was quite a change from the rushing and driving and striding of the previous thirty minutes.  I was aware of the difference, but, again, I didn't judge.  I just felt the feelings, letting them wash over me and out into the ether.  There seemed to be a lot of that going on; there was a lot of energy in the room.

Today we did a mindful walking meditation.  Some, like me, were in socks. Some wore shoes.  Some didn't leave their seats.  Slowly, carefully, heel, ball, toe leaving the earth and reconnecting, over and over, with precision and thoughtfulness and care, we walked around the room. 

I didn't fall over.  I didn't lose my balance.  I put weight on my injured leg and it held me up, weakly and noisily at first and then, as we made the first turn at the back of the rows of chairs, I was free.  there was no fear.  There was no clicking... of ligaments or arthritis or anything... in my hip joint.  My toes were bending and my ankles were engaged and I could feel the musculature of my legs working in synchronicity.

It was marvelous.

We sat down.  Announcements were made.  The final meditation sutra was repeated, sending joy and love and peace to ourselves, loved ones, strangers, patients, those with whom we have issues. And then, I retrieved my car and drove, slowly, carefully, mindfully, home.

As I type to you right now, a little more than an hour after the practice ended, I have, as I did last week, a sense of calmness radiating from my heart.  It's warm and nourishing and strengthening and I don't know where it's come from but I do know that I'm liking it a lot.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Why I Love March Madness

Friday's post was swallowed up in the frenzy.  Little Cuter called and I asked if my gift package had arrived as scheduled on Saturday and she laughed and said "It's Friday, retired person!" and it really made no difference because there were 64 teams competing from Buffalo to San Diego and I was obsessed.

It began on Thursday morning and followed me through my dreams into pilates on Friday.  I crocheted and I stomped my feet and I encouraged and I wallowed and it was wonderful.  I love having my heartstrings pulled, and this time of year sees an abundance of plucking. 

There's a sense of history, not only from the pulled-from-the-archives films of 1970's era players, those slim, short-shorts wearing, now grey haired talking heads, but from seeing former players, like Rod Strickland, on the sidelines, coaching. 

I watched him on those old, heartbreaking DePaul teams, the ones Dr K and TBG and I were talking about over dinner, the ones that led you on through a perfect season, only to lose the last game, to Notre Dame, on my birthday, and then go out in the first round of the tournament.  Mark Aguirre, their star forward, he of swisheroo-another two announcing fame, wants to go back and coach the Blue Devils.  Dr K says he's quite open about wanting the job. 

I haven't seen De Paul play in years, maybe decades.  Still, I am concerned.  The love never dies.  So many pieces of my life come together over these three weeks; my massage therapist reminded me that Arizona's Sean Miller came to us from Xavier. As he scraped scar tissue we compared brackets.  Brother called and wondered if he still had time to win Warren Buffet's billion-dollars-for-a-perfect-bracket contest.  The checker at the grocery store asked my opinion.

There are life lessons played out on a major stage. After his #3 seed Blue Devils were upset by the #14 Mercer Bears, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski left his stunned players and entered the Mercer locker room.  He congratulated them on a game well played, and shared his admiration with the interviewers in the post-game media mash.  Coach K, as both TBG and Charles Barkley noted within minutes of one another (in that order, I might add), brings honor to the game of college basketball. 

The man has Coach as part of his name.  That says it all, I think.

There were more David and Goliath stories, like the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks over VCU in overtime, and there were the inevitable tear your hair out moments of missed free throws and an absence of boxing out behavior.  No one has a perfect bracket, not one out of more than eleven million brackets completed on ESPN's website.  Fans of Harvard can claim title to a second round game, despite the fact that the NCAA has deemed the play-in game to be the first round, bumping the rest of them up one. 

It doesn't sound right and I refuse to go along with it. 

That's the way the brackets are, for me, at least. I won an office pool with Jim Valvano's 1983 North Carolina State team, and every once in a while I win the family pool.  I've saved all our paper entries in a drawer in my newly organized library.  Taking pride of place, for a while, at least, will be my entry from this year.  I had Syracuse playing Arizona in the championship game.  Big Cuter loves to hate the Orangemen; their rivalry with Georgetown lives on in his Hoya heart despite the end of the Big East which spawned it.  I figured that everyone would choose Florida, and I looked out and saw that, at the end, my boy could share his parents' love for their fellow Tucsonans.

It didn't work out that way.  He called to give me grief for choosing his most despised team, but I had my answer at the ready.  I was just waiting for him to call me on it.

And that's why I love March Madness.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Missing G'ma

I'm remembering a phone call with my mom, a few months after Bubba, her mother, died.  I'd been regaling G'ma with stories of her wonderful, beautiful, magnificently talented and brilliant grandson when I heard her sigh.

G'ma was not one for deep sighs.  She wasn't the kind of mother who shared her sorrows with her children.  She was there for us; it never occurred to her that we should be there for her.  So, when I heard that aching exhale, I stopped chattering.

The silence was powerful. 

In a moment, one I am sure was shorter than it felt at the time, she collected herself and, with a rueful laugh, explained that, while my stories were wonderful, they also opened a hole in her heart.  "There is no one with whom I can share this," my mom told me.  "It will sound like bragging to anyone else."  Bragging.... the antithesis of her socialist upbringing... she couldn't make herself tell my aunt or a neighbor about her marvelous grandchildren... they would see it as a means of drawing attention to herself.  The tales were fabulous, the kids delightful, and the stories had no place to go.

She missed her mother.

I'm channeling her pain right now.  Little Cuter is filled with love and excitement as FlapJilly (Flapjack is no longer a gender appropriate sobriquet) dances up a storm inside her ever swelling belly. Her sideways photos, designed to show her expanding girth to a mother living too far away, are just about filling the frame.  I have no one to laugh with about it.  It's a small story, not worthy of mentioning to anyone except my mom.... and she's not here.

I'm trying, not very successfully, to avoid being that grandmother.  Big Cuter saw the same peril when he reposted the first ultrasound picture on his Facebook page, apologizing for becoming that kind of uncle before announcing that, in fact, he did have the most adorable fetus-in-his-sister-on-the-planet.

A coyote just walked across my front yard.  That's the kind of mini-moment I'd share with G'ma.  We'd go round and round with coyote-Arizona-Tucson-desert, over and over, laughing at her failing memory, smiling at the wildlife in our surroundings, passing the time. 

There's a yellow and black butterfly with a 6" wingspan fluttering over the lantana.  G'ma would know just what kind of butterfly it is, and she'd enjoy sitting on a lounge chair, watching it carouse.

Those are the moments that tug at my heartstrings.  Not the she won't be there for the baby's birth; she danced at the kids' wedding and that was as far as any of us chose to prognosticate.  She lived a long, full life.  She was neither a burden nor a problem as she meandered through her final months.  I wished that her ever diminishing life would come to an uneventful close, and I got that wish. 

I kissed her good night and she didn't wake up.  At the time, I was happy that she was finally at peace, that the half-life masquerading as her existence was over.

I had no idea that I'd be sitting here today, wishing for a few more of those minimal days.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Digging Out

The saddest part of this whole saga is this:  when I went to Picasa to save the photos for this post, I created a folder, Messy Library.  When I opened Picasa, I found Mess in the Library and Suz Books Mess nestled right up against their newest sibling.  February 2012, March 2011, today.... there must be something in the air at this time of year which forces me to look my sinful ways in the eye and begin to dig out from under.
It's particularly egregious this time around. GRIN needs an office assistant, My schoolwork needs a contained space, and I really should unpack some of those bags. 
In addition to volunteerism and educational pursuits and household management tasks, there's the joyful addition of crocheting for all the new babies on their way into my life.  I probably should have gotten organized before I began a new passion, but the urge was overwhelming; I could not resist.
And then there is the problem of all these books.
The shelves go to the ceiling. 
They are full.
We've culled the collection several times over since we moved to Arizona.
I try to restrain myself, but.....
Big Cuter double stacks his library.
The problem is genetic, it seems.
I have made some progress.
These boxes contain files regarding houses and vehicles we no longer own.
There are tax files from well into the 20th century and NO I cannot shred them.
I asked.
They can live in the closet.
The garage was too far from ..... I'm not sure.
Those boxes left us with empty drawers.
I can fill one with yarn and needles and hooks.
I can fill one or two with GRIN paraphernalia.
I can leave them empty and see where the needs arise.
So many possibilities.
It's too bad that I have to do the work,
Would that the intention alone created the result.
My house would be immaculate every day.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Meditation 101

The Tucson Festival of Books has much more than books. 
Early in the morning, it looked like this.
But by mid-day this was more usual. 
Everything is so well thought out at the Festival.
The recycling is next to the garbage and both are recyclable containers. 
There was no trash on the ground.
This vertical garden was an interesting idea,
but the droopy leaf up there at the top made me question its efficacy in the desert. 
 When questioned, the grower couldn't disagree. 
I moved on to the books.
passing Authors Helping Authors

and this friendly fellow who happily smiled for a picture in The Burrow.
I gave him my card; I wonder if he'll comment and let us know that he's out there?
Of course, there were authors, too,
Robert Dugoni, John Lescroart, Mike Lawson

and I was able to sit up close to some old favorites and some new discoveries. 
Mike Lawson and I shared a brick ledge on Saturday afternoon, watching the last 3 seconds of the Arizona Pac-12 championship game unfold on my smartphone.  That's the best part of the Festival; the authors are as happy to chat with the patrons as the patrons are delighted to chat with them.

But none of this tells you about the title of this post.

UMC, which saved my life, is now called University of Arizona Medical Center.
They had a giant tent with interactive exhibits and free packages of Hallmark thank you notes.
 I had no idea why they were offered to me, but I took them just the same.
There was an obstacle course to prove that you can't walk - let alone drive - and text at the same time, and there were CPR dummies - but no infants - for a crash course in saving a life, and there was a social worker behind a table.

She had all sorts of leaflets, but there, in the center of the tablecloth, was one advertising a free meditation program at UAMC.  The social worker introduced herself as one of the leaders, and she seemed genuinely delighted to hear of my interest.  The Integrative Medicine doctor told me to add meditation to my life, assuring me that, in addition to the dozens of supplements on my list, it would change my life for the better.

I heard him but I didn't act.

Standing there, I made the commitment and today I attended my first class.... session... experience.... there weren't very many instructions.

She told us to sit comfortably,
to put our hands in a yoga mudra,
and then she started talking about rainbows and this being the luckiest day of your life
and then we were quiet for 15 minutes. 
She rang a gentle bell chime, and we shared our practice.
I walked out with a woman from Long Island, I found my car, and I drove home.
I drove very carefully.
I paid attention to everything around me.
I was calm in a deep inside me space.
At the time, I wasn't that impressed.
As the afternoon wears on, and the feeling continues and grows, I'm thinking there might just be something to this after all.
It's certainly better than swallowing all those capsules of stuff-that-is-good-for-me.
I wonder, when they planned the Tucson Festival of Books, if they knew it would be a life changing event?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Take-Aways from the TFOB

It was sunny and crowded and wonderful.  The lines were long but if you planned for them they created no problems.  Some of the chairs were small and uncomfortable, but most were cushioned and cozy.  The authors were, as always, brilliant and funny and open and honest.

It's the best weekend of the year in Tucson.

I was there from 9 - 5 on Saturday and Sunday. I am exhausted in body and in mind as I am uplifted in heart and soul.  My brain is capable of an overview; in depth analysis will have to wait for a long bath and a good night's sleep.  So, I offer you these quotes.  I hope they resonate with you as they did with me.

We live intertwined on this planet. (Lois Lowry)

People in movies don't go to the bathroom. (Lois Lowry).

I can write a book as bad as that one! (Mike Lawson)

The world is a better place when you're reading a good book. (Valerie Plame)

Scotty, what kind of life is this?  Locked up all day in a room with a pencil. (Scott Turow's grandfather)

Writing is like going upstairs to my study and playing with my imaginary friends. (Scott Turow)

The opposite of progress?  Congress.  (Merl Reagle... take a minute and look at the pro/con... remember that he writes crossword puzzles for a living, and then read on for two more of his groaners.)

Copy Cat is a foolish phrase; when did a cat do anything you asked it to? (Merl Reagle)

Why can't you hear a pterodactyl going to the bathroom?  The P is silent. (Merl Reagle)

How do I imagine my antagonists?  I think of my older brother.  (Robert Dugoni)

I could have written books on baking a chocolate cake, but then I wouldn't get to have police ride alongs.  (Elizabeth Gunn)

As a mystery writer, do you put people you know in your books?  It's tempting, especially as victims. (Elizabeth Gunn).

There was more, much much more.  Someday, maybe you'll all come and join me.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tucson Festival of Books

The fourth or seventh or something largest book festival in the USofA is coming to Tucson this weekend.  The tents have been up for ten days.  Volunteers have been publicizing and strategizing and organizing and the authors are arriving as you read this.  There's a dinner tonight and then session after session after session of writers, creators, designers, thinkers..... and tens of thousands of people.

Brenda Starr doesn't like crowds; she won't be joining me.  Elizibeth has plans, as 16 year olds will, so I won't be picking her up on my way downtown.  JannyLou is nursing an ailing daughter-in-law in Phoenix; she's not returning until Sunday.  I'm on my own, and that's just fine.

There's something quite wonderful about wandering around a space where wandering is not considered bizarre. I can stop and visit my friends at the Humanities Seminars booth without worrying that I am boring a companion.  I can choose to sit in on what interests me, and only what interests me.  It's self-indulgent, it's intellectually stimulating, and it's free.

Yes, free, from the parking to the presentations.  There are books and souvenirs for purchase, of course, but the circus performers and the Science Center and the story tellers and the musicians are there for the listening, no charge at all. 

In 2010, the first year I attended, I walked right in to hear Alice Hoffman and Elmore Leonard and Robert Crais.  Last year, the lines were out the door and down the staircase and out the next door... and that was an hour before the start of the talk.  I've found it more useful to seek out the smaller venues, the secondary presentations by the major authors, to follow my guilty pleasures (Tucson mystery writers) and indulge my inner geek (Merle Reagle). 

The only problem is deciding how to be in three places at the same time on Saturday morning at 10:30.

I have comfortable shoes, a carry-all for my water and my snack and my moleskine and some great pens and pencils.  I'll have my Kindle, because it's easier to track where I'm going on the bigger screen, but my phone will be charged and ready to photograph the scene.  There is an insert to last Sunday's paper sitting on my kitchen table.  It lists everything I need to know, organized in every way imaginable.  I'll drool over it tomorrow, then enter my plans on the Android App. 

I've always relied on the paper schedule, but this year the Festival's website has added a feature that makes electronics the obvious default - there's a locator feature which will tell me where I am and where I need to be.

I'm linking to the posts I've written from previous Festivals.  If you're in town, be sure to stop by.  I'll be tweeting my locations..... after all, I do have that app.... if you want to join me. 

Love at the TFOB

Smiling at the TFOB

Tucson Festival of Books

Words of Wisdom from the TFOB

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Kathleen Sebelius Speaks

I was on the phone with the Secretary of Health and Human Services this morning. 

I'm enjoying that sentence.  Really, really enjoying that sentence.  I'm a 60-something blogger with a once-famous backstory. I am a member of the BlogHer community. I completed the Survey Monkey last week and today I had the privilege of being on a conference call with a member of the President's cabinet. 

BlogHer lists empowerment as one of its goals.  I am definitely feeling the strength right now.

There were twenty of us on the line.  Secretary Sebelius spoke first, then listened as two bloggers shared their stories of life before and after the Affordable Care Act.  There was time for three or four questions and then our thirty minutes close to fame came to an end. Throughout the conversation, women were tweeting and retweeting and letting the world know that we were involved and passionate about an issue that affects everyone.

One of my tweets was picked up and retweeted many times.
Number one cause of bankruptcy? Medical bills. at . Protect yourself and your family. Disaster CAN strike!
Someone disagreed with the statistic, but the underlying fact remains.  Medical bills can stymie care, separate the patient from the treatment, and leave a family financially devastated.  Without the ACA, I would not have health insurance.  The bills from my hospitalization and rehabilitation exceeded my lifetime limits; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona would have revoked my coverage on December 31, 2011 and I would have had no recourse. 

Certainly, I would not have been able to walk two miles, as I did at Reid Park this morning with my physical therapist.  Without acupuncture and Pilates and PT and massage, I'd be on the couch, moaning.  Being able to see a physiatrist, having my expenses reimbursed, knowing that the financial piece of the puzzle did not have to be on my worry list... I am sure that my life would be far different without that.

Not all policies cover alternative treatments.  The federal Witness Protection Fund has helped, too, reinforcing my mantra that, if you're going to get shot, you should do it 10' away from a serving Congressperson.  My situation is specific and at the far end of a normal bell curve.  Still, without the ACA I wouldn't be covered for a simple annual gynecology checkup.  I couldn't see an internist for help managing my cholesterol.  And there's no way I could visit Little Cuter and Flapjack as often as I plan if I were paying full price for the medications I take.

Obamacare has put a safety net under my life and I'm a fan.  It's not perfect, though Secretary Sebelius told us that since December 1st the website is good. There's a Spanish language version of the website.  There's a 24-hour hotline (800-318-2596) with trained personnel ready to take you all the way through to enrollment. will send you to a local advisor, if you want to speak to someone in person.  All of this is important, because the deadline to enroll is March 31st, and I have it on good authority from the person in charge that there will be no extensions.

You snooze, you lose.  Don't sign up by March 31st and you'll have to wait until next year for open enrollment.  This is especially important for those 2o and 30 somethings who are masquerading as our independent and competent children.  The ACA only works if the young and the healthy are part of the pool.  Millennials and Gen-X'ers were put off by the website's intial glitches, and they don't seem to be coming back.  Ms. Sebelius is the mom of two of these people, one in graduate school and one, well, we're not quite sure what he is doing, but both of them are now insured. 

Are your children covered?  Secretary Sebelius wants you to ask them and to encourage them and to help them if need be.  Yes, your government is telling you to nag your children.  I love it when the law and I are on the same page. 

She suggests asking everyone you encounter, starting with cab drivers.  I'm not sure that I'm willing to be a publicist for a program that is in desperate need of professional guidance in that area, but I see her point.  Just as I didn't sit quietly when the cab driver was not wearing his seat belt, I should inquire and suggest that he become insured through

Perhaps. I'll consider it.  For now, I'm reveling in the aura of having my government reach out to me, using my social media power to extend its reach.  I feel connected to the women who spoke on the phone, and especially to the single mom, now insured for the first time, who left us with this:
I am so happy to pay my insurance bill every month.  I am doing this for my family, but I have to do this for myself.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Is 10 Old Enough?

Mr. 10 is nearly as tall as I am.  This has happened with alarming rapidity.  Last month I looked down at his shoulders; now they are bumping me in the chin.

There's a charming quasi-adultness in his demeanor.  The little boy giggles have turned into a tween's chortle.  There's kid-like joy combined with teen angst all mixed up in his heart before the sound bursts from his lips.

Is it okay to laugh? Is anyone watching? Will I be judged? The carefree child is now wondering about the world around him.  Always conscious of following the rules, his ten year old self is noticing that it's not only the grown-ups who are creating the constraints around his life. Suddenly, his peers are making an equally strong impression.

There's a new swagger in his step. He decorated and coordinated his family's Halloween extravaganza, dressed as Flo, the insurance saleswoman. The gender bending didn't upset him, not one bit.  The costume met my three rules (you must be able to sit, stand, and eat in your outfit) and evoked laughter from the audience.  He was delighted. 

Teasing his younger siblings has now developed into an art form.  It's no longer poke-and-run. Instead, there's planning and self-protection and just a hint of nastiness.  He's not comfortable with the mean streak that reveals its ugly head; it's our job as the grown ups to guide him toward a kinder path.  The power that comes with being older is heady.  Learning to control it is another story entirely.

In short, he's a typical, well-adjusted, smart, young man.  He's responsible and respectful and competent.  His teachers praise his work ethic.

Does he seem old enough to stay home without supervision?

I baby sat in fifth grade.  So did Little Cuter. We left the kids home, babysitting one another (yes, we paid them both), for short periods of time once Big Cuter hit double digits. Certainly, leaving them unattended for an hour after school, when the neighbors were home and the sun was shining, presented no problem for TBG or me.

Apparently, Mr. 10's dad sees things through another prism.  He refuses to consider the possibility that his son will be safe at home unless there is an adult present. 

There are two or three dogs living outside that house, dogs that alert anyone near or far to the approach of an intruder.  Across the ungated space behind their house lives a firefighter who is the step-dad's best friend.  He's home most afternoons, including the ones when Mr. 10 would be alone.  There's a land line in the house.  Mr. 10 has demonstrated competence with the microwave, the refrigerator, and his mouth; snacking is not an issue for him. 

Until his dad got wind of the situation, Mr. 10 was delighted to assume the adult responsibility of bringing in the mail, opening the garage door, fixing himself a treat, and having the house all to himself.  Given that his life consists of traveling between mom and dad, surrounded by siblings of all genders, ages, and relationships, playing the trumpet and doing homework and feeding the dogs, those moments of peace must have felt like heaven to him.

And now, they are gone. Until the custody battle is resolved, his father's worries must be considered.  His brief brush with freedom has been yanked away.  In its stead is a parade of grown up friends of his mother, people who will meet him and his brother in the driveway and sit with them in the house until their high school sister gets home. 

It's an hour at the most, and, for me, it's a time of pure joy.  That is, until I look at Mr. 10, wondering why I have to be there, intruding in what was, for a while, his own personal space.

If I had any inkling that the dad was really concerned about Mr. 10's safety, I would be less disgusted with the situation. But, knowing the players, I am convinced that this is more about judging the mom's parenting skills than it is about the competence of their son.  It's a power play, a way to interfere and interrupt and damage the mother-son relationship.

What he doesn't realize is that the son is noticing that his father has feet of clay.  Mr. 10 knows he's safe, and so does his mom.  It's sad that a judge will have the final say on the subject.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sport Short - Phil Jackson

It's not just because he still carries that aging hippie vibe so well.  It's not because he still looks as though he forgot to take the hanger out of his jacket before he put it on. It's more the ironic smile, the look in his eyes when the question is too dumb for words, the recognition that it's really just a game.

Phil's who he is and the rest of the world can get on board or get out of the way.  He'll be happy to show you the path, to leave books in your locker, to encourage you to find your better self, because he knows that his life will be as enriched as yours by the transformation.

Phil's a big fan of The Peaceful Warrior Way.  Dan Millman, the author, is a self-help guru with none of the creepiness that might have just sent shivering up your spine.  We met at the Cuters' high school, parenting students in the same grade. He had the look that Phil sports, the one that makes you feel as if he knows the secret.... and that he'll share if you ask him.

I don't know what the secret is, but it's got something to do with quotes like
There are no ordinary moments
Willpower is the key to success; successful people strive no matter what they feel.
So today, as Tony Kornheiser dismissed the notion that Phil's presence on the Knick's management team would be of any value at all, I had to smile. Phil is not obsessed with the game, he has other interests, that makes him unable to bring his full attention to the job in the way like Larry Bird or Jerry West, and that makes him less than perfect for whatever job it is that the Knicks are offering.

That's right, denizens.  Without knowing what is on the table, he knows that Phil can't do it, won't be successful at it, won't make a difference in the long run.

I wish I were that certain about uncertainties.  I think it's time for another Peaceful Warrior quote:
Faith means living with uncertainty - feeling your way through life, letting your heart guide you like a lantern in the dark.
I have faith in Phil Jackson.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Grandparenting 101 - Shopping, the Preliminary Expedition

It was too cold to do much besides go from one warm space to another, so the kids and I went pre-shopping for the baby while TBG snuggled with Thomas-the-Wonder-Dog on Cozy Rosie, in front of the game.  What game?  Who knows.  He was happy and so were we. 

We started at the No Returns All Sales Final Open the Package and BE SURE IT'S RIGHT outlet for Land of Nod, and moved on to Buy Buy Baby, which turns out to be Bed Bath and Beyond for kids.

There were some pretty cool ideas
and some fairly awful ones.
As you can tell from Little Cuter's grimace,
we agreed that this would put you off Thanksgiving forever.
Someone in marketing had serious attitude issues,
as evidenced by  
and this 
Demand all you want, kiddo.
Cry to your heart's content.
As I told your mother, long long ago,
I'm not the one embarrassed by your antics;
I'm not the one wailing at the top of my lungs.
Someone with an ironic sense of humor works there, too.
and, I suspect the same person as having a love of the pun. 

There were absurdities, 
like this faux facial hair, 
designed to attach to a pacifier, 
despite the WARNING: Choking Hazard label right there on the front.
Imagine having to explain the reasoning behind this as a baby gift.
Perhaps it was just the punster at work?
We have this photo with our own little man reading his own big book on his own big boy seat.
It was a trip down memory lane...
right up to and including the moment at the very end when we came upon this
with its computer and front headlights and side lights and a price tag that brought Daddooooo right there into the store with me. 
As he said to me, thirty-one years ago,
I said to my daughter last weekend:
This damn thing costs more than my first car.
As the other grandparental units within hearing distance smiled and nodded,
I wiped a tear or two. 
Daddooooo loved his Jenny and she loved him right back.
It was unequivocal, non-judgmental, genuine joy.
For that moment, I was feeling it again.
This baby stuff is really quite wonderful.