Monday, March 21, 2016

Operation: Kick Spring Break Tail

I have nine days in a row off work. Nine! It's Spring Break, and it's my first real vacation from work, aside from random days here and there. I am determined to make the absolute MOST of it. Operation: Kick Spring Break Tail has begun!

It started on Friday after work last week. It was an exhausting day (week, actually, no month - wait, it's ALWAYS exhausting), and I was so relieved to get home and forget about work for a week.  (That didn't really happen. I was up all through the night that night thinking about things I hadn't satisfactorily tied up and stressing about them.) It being the start of Spring Break for the kids too, I promised them they could have friends over. So Friday night, we had two extra girls in the house. Scott worked late, so I had five kids on my own all night. But I refused to let that get me down! We ate frozen pizza for dinner, and I started the break off with a bang - and by bang, I mean cupcakes!

With Cadbury's Mini Eggs

I was told by my two extra children that I was the coolest mom ever. Yes, dears, that's because I haven't yelled at you to clean your room and threatened to take away your allowance.

The next morning, we exchanged those two girls for three different children.  We kept my friends' kids (8 year old and 2 year old) over night so they could have a proper date night and went ahead and also invited over another kid to stay. Why not? Six kids? I used to keep six kids at a time as a childminder. I can take this.

We ordered pizza (pizza two nights in a row, talk about "coolest mom ever") and rented The Good Dinosaur. And ate cupcakes, of course.

Oh, and we dyed everyone's hair. Spring Break gone wild! Whooo!

Sunday morning was Secular Sunday, which is really just our and one other atheist couple's version of once-a-month church. We make a big breakfast, let the kids run around together in their pajamas, and "fellowship". The only church aspect missing is the sermon and the singing. And the praying. And the getting dressed. Okay, it's nothing like church. Yesterday, breakfast ran into lunch, and it was just a super great morning. In the afternoon, I took two of my three kids shopping for Easter outfits. We don't go to church, so it's really just an excuse to buy sweet dresses for my girls and a little suit for my boy, to wear absolutely nowhere. Yay!

Today has been an errands and phone calls day, while Jaguar watches endless episodes of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood and the girls watch Minecraft videos on YouTube. I forgot how leisurely errands can be when you aren't doing them during your lunch break. It's 2pm, and I've spent the day getting the cars assessed, talking to the bank, taking a nap, shopping, and eating pretzels with cheese at Target. I'm considering taking another nap after this. Then I'm going to bake chocolate chip cookies from scratch. I might finish off the night with a dram of whisky and Netflix.

And y'all, it's only Monday! Whooo!

Operation: Kick Spring Break Tail is well on its way. May it never end, like Groundhog Day

Monday, March 14, 2016

May the Pi Be With You

I utterly failed today in my employment of mother and wife to my squad of mathy, sweet-toothed geeks. Yes it is Pi Day - and I did not make any pie. I did not make any Pi jokes either. I actually forgot it was Pi Day until about 40 minutes ago, long after my mini geeklings were in bed and my geek co-equal was lounging on the couch with a dram of Scotch and a TV show he discovered on Netflix.

With only an hour left of Pi Day to go, I cannot hope to simply skip into the kitchen and whip up something pi-alicious in time, thus saving my already fragile chance of being seated in the everlasting realm of Supermoms. My cape is already fraying, my ridiculously impractical stiletto boots are already scuffed. And here I am on this second most dorky of days (I will always have May the 4th to make up for this), half asleep on the recliner, watching Hamilton the musical clips while reading the code duello on Wikipedia, instead of creating delicious heavenly pi from hand peeled apples and organic raw cane sugar.

(One might be able to make the case that while I failed in the domesticity of Pi Day, I succeeded in being extraordinarily geeky in my own theater nerd right. I am not throwing away my shot.)

So since I can't offer you anything sweet with cartoon squiggles wafting from a hot handmade crust tonight, I leave you this. Happy Closer-To-the-Real-Pi-Day-Than-Last-Year's-Pi-Day(But-Still-Not-Actual-Pi-Day) Pi Day.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Being A Human Being: The Right to Health Care

Bernie Sanders: "I happen to believe, and I know not everybody agrees with me, I believe that health care is a right of all people..."
Bret Baier: "Where did that right come from, in your mind?"
Sanders: "Being a human being. Being a human being." - Democratic Town Hall, Fox News, Mar. 7, 2016

I've said it before: health care is one of my biggest hot button political issues and has been for several years now. The above quote came from tonight's Democratic Town Hall in Detroit, MI, and it could not speak more clearly to my beliefs about a person's right to receive health care.

I spent most of my adult life in the United Kingdom under the National Health Service (NHS), a single payer health care system which pays for its services through taxes. I have personally experienced the good and the bad.

Here's an example of the bad, starting with a comparison of the good in the US.

When I was twenty-two, still living in the US just months before getting married and moving to the UK, a lump was found in my breast at a routine annual visit. The OBGYN at the college health center where I had the exam was concerned and scheduled an appointment for me the following week with a specialist. The following week, I saw the specialist who did his own exam and some scans. The scans showed two lumps which seriously concerned him. He said the size of one of these lumps was so large that he "wouldn't leave that inside anyone." He scheduled me the next day for a lumpectomy. Thankfully, after biopsying the lumps post-surgery, they were all benign, but he recommended that I get regular mammograms despite my young age because of the risk my body apparently posed.  This was in the United States.

In stark comparison, when I moved to Scotland later that year, I explained to my new GP my breast situation, and he flat out refused to schedule me for any mammograms ever because I was too young. He even refused to have a nurse perform a physical exam, because it wasn't time for my yearly.

This example shows either an insensitive health care professional (which are everywhere) in comparison to a thorough and careful one (which are everywhere), or it shows good health care versus bad.

Now let me say this. I lived in the UK and enjoyed the advantages of the NHS for nine years. There is only a small handful of negative experiences I can recount, none of which were life-threatening in any way. In fact, they all land in the range of annoying or aggravating. The rest of my experiences go something like this:

  • I had three pregnancies and three live births that went remarkably well.  I had routine ultrasounds at 12 weeks and 20 weeks.  With my first, the routine 20 week scan showed possible placenta previa. This triggered more scans, eventually confirming placenta previa and requiring a c-section. The c-section was performed perfectly and safely, resulting in a healthy baby and mother.  My second birth, a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), required monitors, provalactic antibiotics, and some anesthesia, and resulted in a healthy birth. The final one was a fully planned home-birth (provided by the NHS with licensed midwives) which unfortunately resulted in an ambulance to the hospital due to meconium in my waters but also ended with a live, healthy birth (and I was even allowed to birth him drug-free and naturally, as I'd planned).
  • My son was born with a dilated kidney, which had been closely monitored all through pregnancy via ultrasounds. Dilated kidneys, especially post birth, often indicate kidney malfunction. This involved many visits to the hospital for scans and visits with the pediatrician for six months until his kidneys were deemed normal and fully functioning. 
  • My daughter had orthopedic issues. This involved regular visits to the child podiatrist for check-ups and non-surgical modifications. She eventually outgrew this issue.  This same daughter got her finger severed in a slammed in a door, requiring immediate emergency attention, surgery, and a short hospital stay.

These are just examples of the medical issues I'm willing to share publicly. This does not touch on all of them. Here's the thing: despite the rhetoric that state-funded health care is sub par and discriminates against the elderly and takes years to be treated, this is not the experience of most people. Yes, you will find horror stories. I know people personally who have them.  Yes, there will be bad doctors and missed diagnoses and sometimes waiting lines. I know people who have had this happen to them too.  Yet, don't be fooled into thinking this only happens with socialized medicine. This also happens in the US; this is not a socialist problem, but a human error (or human asshole) problem.  For every NHS horror story, you can find a private health care one to match. 

What you will not find in the UK, however, that you will definitely find in the US is this - a bill.

When I had that breast surgery at twenty-two, I was terrified. I worried for a week waiting for the biopsy report. Scott and I discussed over the phone what we'd do if I had cancer. (He was going to fly right over is what he was going to do.) I had never felt so much fear. When the report came back clean, I was relieved to tears.

Then the first bill rolled in. Something like $200. I breathed in deeply and pulled money out of savings to pay the bill. A few days later, another bill came in. It was around $400. The panic started to set in. My savings were for my wedding and for moving abroad, not for paying these bills! Then another came in, and another. One for the anesthesia. One for the surgeon. One for the hospital stay. One for the specialist's scans. One for the lab. I was under my parents insurance, so I knew nothing about deductibles and out of pocket expenses. I thought $20 co-pays were all I ever had to pay.  I ended up calling my parents in tears, because I could not pay all these bills - I didn't have enough in savings to do so.

Compare that to finding out I needed a c-section. I cried, because I didn't want to be sectioned and I was worried about my baby. But when we came out of it just fine, I didn't have to think about the bills rolling in. I could just be thankful my baby was alive.

And when my son had kidney issues, I didn't have to think about how to pay for all these scans and hospital visits. And when my daughter had orthopedic issues, I didn't have to weigh up whether they were valid enough to warrant seeing a specialist or not. 

When I first moved to Scotland, I broke a glass in my hand doing dishes. The cut was deep, blood was everywhere, and some broken shards of glass even got lodged inside the cut. Scott tried to get me to go to the A&E (ER), but I refused. He reminded me it was free, but I still refused.  Medical treatment had always been something I had to weigh up according to its level of severity and necessity. A cut I could mend myself with bandages and soapy water did not warrant visiting a doctor. Though it would have been free, I was not used to seeing a doctor for such things.

(For years, I could feel something small and hard inside my hand near that cut. A tiny shard of glass, perhaps?)

Here is my point.

Health care shouldn't deplete one's savings. A person shouldn't have to decide against care for their child because the level of severity doesn't quite justify the cost. Being forced to forego medical treatment because it would cost too much should never have to happen. A person shouldn't have thousands of dollars in deductibles to meet before the insurance he or she is paying into kicks in to help out. (True story: Sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office a few weeks ago, I overheard a woman ask the receptionist to try billing her insurance company since she had now met her $4000 deductible - in February. In two months, her family had already forked over 4k in medical bills. What will the rest of her year look like, and how much will she end up paying out of pocket by December?)

Let me be even more clear.

A person working for minimum wage or living under the poverty line or out of work (for whatever reason) should not have to make decisions about his or her own health or family's health based on what they can afford. An underprivileged family with a child suffering from behavioral or mental disorders (ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, anxiety, or any other) or who has a developmental delay (occupational, physical, or speech) or who has minor or major illnesses (asthma, ear infections, or any physical ailment that affects his normal day-to-day activities) should have the same access to treatment as a family with the money to pay for it. But the reality is, in the United States of America, the richest country in the world, those families are having to make devastating choices constantly about their health care. 
  • Do we use emergency services, knowing we cannot pay the bills?  
  • Do we seek cheaper options that are not proven to work?  
  • Do we forego the treatment all together, though it may lead to all kinds of issues down the road? 
And when they do deem the treatments medically necessary - or when an accident occurs, like a severed appendage or broken bone - these treatments often land them further in poverty and debt. Medicaid only covers so much, and if you don't qualify for Medicaid but still don't have the money to fork over to pay all your medical bills (and heaven forbid something major comes up, like cancer), you are faced with crippling medical debt that will haunt you and your credit for years, even decades, to come. 

How is this okay to a large majority of people in the richest country in the world? How are we okay, not only with our own insurance plans, that make us pay thousands outright before letting us access the coverage we are paying large monthly premiums for, but with knowing children and people living in poverty or near poverty are suffering needlessly because they do not have the money to pay for medical care?

Yes we have Medicaid and Medicare, which helps tremendously, and I am very much in favor of these programs. But as they stand now, they simply cannot go far enough to help solve the problem. When people who have low enough income levels to qualify for Medicaid are still being landed with copays and hospital bills they cannot afford, there is a problem we should all be deeply concerned about.

I agree with Bernie Sanders. Health care is a right. A human right. And where does that right come from? Where all other human rights, like safety and security, equality, religion, freedom from slavery or discrimination, education, adequate living conditions, and so forth, come from. They come from being a human being. 

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Challenge Accepted! 2016 January and February Books

I had no intentions this year of doing the Reading Challenge again. I wanted to read whatever I wanted to read and not be beholden to a list.

But when I realized that the seven books I've read so far this year all check off a category in the 2016 list, I thought, "Eh, what the heck." We'll try the Reading Challenge again. The difference being that this time, it's all about balance, and if I go off-list or fudge a little or if I don't finish, I won't care. I'm not going to be a purist like last time, nor am I going to feel the same deep and personal commitment to this project.

So. Here we go.

January Books:

A Queer And Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein (An autobiography)

(Memoir, autobiography - what's the difference?)

"The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today."

How could I read that tagline and NOT read this book?

I gotta be honest; this wasn't an easy book to read, nor is it for the faint of heart (or stomach). She writes in shocking, graphic detail about BDSM, masturbation, and sex, both hetero- and homosexual. However, Bornstein's story is fascinating and sad, covering her conversion and time spent in Scientology as well as her transition to living as a woman. She talks about being separated from her children, because she has been declared an SP ("Suppressive Person", a danger to Scientology) and a pervert by the Church, and she discusses her painful relationship with her family who had a difficult time accepting her as a woman. This book is very raw, graphic, and blunt. I'm glad I read it, but it is definitely going on the no-kids shelf until they are all a fair bit older!

(DISCLAIMER.  Let me be clear, by the way, since I'm not one for censorship:  What makes it un-kid-friendly is not the fact that she is a transwoman. My kids are aware of trans issues and are being constantly taught that it's who a person is inside that matters. It is the graphic descriptions of BDSM and masturbation, among other things, that make this inappropriate for kids.)

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini (A book written by a celebrity)

Fascinated by Kate Bornstein's experience with Scientology, I next read the much talked about book by actress Leah Remini telling her story of her life in Scientology. Remini's mother joined the CoS when Remini was a young child, and Remini spent most of her life in the Church, even joining the Sea Org, the CoS clergy, which is a paramilitary organization.  Remini tells us of the conditions she lived in, the work she was required to do, and the way in which the Church manages to brainwash its members into total submission, through encouraged tattling (Knowledge Reports), regular auditing (sort of like counseling with an E-meter), and ostracism when doing something "out-ethics" or "out-PR".  She tells of her rise to stardom and her journey up the Bridge to Total Freedom, finally all culminating with being ostracized right out of the Church due to an upset at Tom Cruise's wedding. This book is truly fascinating and infuriating. There is nothing innocent about Scientology, especially when it comes to how it treats children, particularly Sea Org children. If you'd like some light reading on Scientology with a fun dose of celebrity gossip, I recommend this book.

Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (A self-help book)


Scott bought me this for Christmas. We both read Freakonomics a few years ago and liked it. This one is similar but with a different slant. It encourages readers to think outside the box, asking questions that don't seem relevant or intuitive from the outset but may be the questions that hold the answers that elude us.  Some of the stories were already told in Freakonomics which was kind of annoying, but it was still an intersting read. The idea of asking unusual questions to reach new solutions to old problems is probably something I'll carry with me, particularly in the workforce. 

February Books:

Bossypants by Tina Fey (A book written by a comedian)

This was our February book club choice. I thought it was pretty funny, most of it. I disagreed with some of the things she said - about Photoshop not actually affecting how girls view their own bodies, for instance - but you know, I enjoyed it. Tina Fey is funny. Let it be known: Girls are funny.

My biggest complaint was how all over the place the book was. It just kind of jumped all around, making it kind of hard for me to sum it up here. If you asked me what it was about, my answer would be... "Lots of stuff, said with jokes."

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire (A book that's more than 600 pages)

560 pages is  CLOSE ENOUGH. It's not that I can't or won't read anything longer, it's that I don't want to commit myself to do so.  I have a lot of books I'd like to read, and a 600 page book takes up too much time. I'm balancing. So sue me. (If you are Donald Trump, you probably will at least threaten to.)

Okay, so the book. I have wanted to read this for ages, being a huge fan of the musical. The musical is so witty and so cute and so fun. I love how it twists the Wizard of Oz story like a perfect green pretzel.

The book? Not so much.

I'd maybe say it's still witty, but cute and fun? Not really. It's very dark. Humorous, but dark. It's also far more convoluted than the musical. It's not as perfectly twisted as the musical, but it's certainly still twisted. If I could judge the book on its own merits in its own right, I'd say I liked it. I did, I really did. But it wasn't what I thought I'd be reading. There was no Kristin Chenoweth or Idina Menzel. No "Popular". But there was plenty of cruelty, salaciousness, and death.  

I liked it. In its own way.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green (A book with a blue cover)

This book has been built up so much, I think, that I was a little let down. I haven't seen the film yet; I've been waiting to read the book. I don't mean to say I didn't like the book, because I did. But it wasn't the tearjerker, heartbreaker I expected it to be. I called the ending pretty much from the start, so I wasn't surprised. Therefore, I wasn't wiping away tears. Sad story anyway, and a good story. I'd maybe liked it more if the hype hadn't been so great. Sorry, fans.

I do plan to watch the movie now.

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill with Lisa Pulitzer (A New York Times bestseller)

I may have developed a serious fascination with Scientology. I think Scott is worried.

This is my third escape-from-Scientology book I've read. What makes this one so interesting is that Jenna Miscavige Hill is David Miscavige's niece - David Miscavige being the current leader ("Chairman of the Board" or COB) of the Church. She was a third generation Scientologist, raised from birth as a Scientologist. Her mother was a prominent executive in the Sea Org and her father was a high up Sea Org member too.

Hill describes her life being virtually separated from her parents from the age of 2, seeing her parents on average once a week until she was 12, then only a small handful of times (3-5) after that until adulthood.  She shares her experience growing up at the Ranch, basically a child labor camp, where she signed a billion year contract with the Sea Org. Following that, she moved to the Flag base in Clearwater, FL, where she was inducted as an extremely young member of the Sea Org, despite not being prepared via the necessary courses.  She tells of all the interrogation she endured when her family members stepped out of Scientology lines, even though she was still basically a child. Her whole story borders on disbelief; one wonders how this organization has not been shut down already for its cruelty to children.

If you want to read a serious book about life inside Scientology, this is the place to start. Hill is relatable, likable, and a little bit tragic. Ultimately, though, she is a survivor, a brave young woman unafraid to tell her story without being bullied by the multi-million (multi-billion?) dollar organization she grew up in - even if it means facing off with the very top man himself, her uncle.

Join the 2016 Reading Challenge and tell me what you're reading!