This is one Mean Old Lady!

This is one Mean Old Lady!
Self-portrait: 'Quilter on Fire'

Monday, February 5, 2018

    Our horse-loving daughter, Laura, created endless horse pictures, played with model horses, dreamed of someday owning a horse.  That wish came true when she acquired a paint mare named Chloe; unfortunately, skittish Chloe spooked and threw Laura early last month--broken wrist, badly wrenched leg, bruises galore.  During the time she spent with us, recuperating, she and I went through several storage boxes filled with childhood art and schoolwork done by Laura and brother Nathaniel.  

This series of hand-drawn cartoon panels, entitled "Goof-Up," tells a story.....somewhat prescient!  

"How pathetic," the horse thinks, as the happy-go-lucky person approaches.

A thundercloud conveys the horse's mood as the rider stands on the mounting block.

The horse acts!

Emotions are on display!  The hapless rider lands in the stock tank while the horse celebrates.

The End!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Our Health Insurance Story (aka "Long Time, No See!")

I spent a good bit of time writing this after getting an initial blow-off letter from our Congressional Representative, French Hill.  They sent me a link to House Speaker Paul Ryan's BS 'Better Way' and also a link to the Republican Study Committee (chaired by Walker) which is a conservative caucus in the House.  (Actually, the initial response had links that didn't work.  After two pokes from me, I got working links from their deputy chief of staff in DC.)  The RSC section on health care made my blood run cold.  It includes high risk pools...and states that "Health care is not a right; it is a service."

This is my rebuttal  (for what it's worth...)
No response.

I know this is long, but I hope you will be interested in our story enough to persist.

To: Rep. French Hill
Subject: Re: health insurance

Dear Representative:
     or more accurately, Dear Staffer who is actually reading this:

My husband and I would ask that you read this and perhaps bring it to the attention of your boss.   We studied the links provided (thank you, Peter Comstock) carefully.  'A Better Way' is merely an outline without any substantive fleshing out in details.  The RSC document, however,  is much meatier--and we found many facets of the Health Care section concerning.

I believe that we can offer a unique perspective after more than 35 years spent as consumers/subscribers of the US health insurance industry while trying to obtain care (and coverage) for a child with a congenital heart defect, a crippling surgical complication, and an array of chronic health impairments .

In 1980, when our first child was born, my husband and I were covered by my health insurance policy with the school district where I was a special education teacher.  Because of the severity of our child's problems, I did not return to work as planned, but instead exhausted the considerable sick leave days I had accumulated.  When it became clear that I would have to resign my teaching position, my husband closed his small consulting business and sought employment with a larger firm that would offer benefits.

I would like to share thumbnail sketches of the experiences we had over the years, in five different states, through various changes and reforms, as a family seriously  impacted by the complexities of our patchwork system.  We were on an anvil where the hammer most heavily struck.

*  There was no 'national coverage.'  Even if a major insurer was represented in every state, the coverage, costs, and benefit details varied from state to state.   In one case, a major insurer withdrew all policies from our state. (Only the New York State Insurance Commissioner protected his state's enrollees by forbidding this action; our state--Arkansas-- was not so fortunate.)

*  HMO:   After a relocation, this was the only option for us until  the next Open Enrollment period (after my gestation was complete and our second child was born.)  In theory our older, disabled child could be approved for services, procedures, or specialist care that the HMO did not provide, but the financial incentive was strong for the HMO to deny such referrals.  We were told our daughter could see 'an HMO orthopedist,'  but he was neither Board-certified nor a pediatric specialist.  We exited the HMO at our earliest opportunity.

*  Pre-existing conditions:  waiting periods ranged from 18 months to 2 years.  At one point we carried our old policy alongside the new insurance until the waiting period could be satisfied.  Fairly costly.   My husband turned down some attractive job offers because we were geographical hostages, afraid to change insurers.

*  Claims:  Until electronic filing became widespread, I spent many hours each week filing insurance claims, copying paperwork, telephoning to correct errors, and appealing denials.  It was routine to find that a large claim would be denied immediately; only if I persisted would the claim be reviewed and finally paid.  BCBS of Ohio was found to be paying lower negotiated rates to hospitals and clinics, while figuring co-pay amounts  for patients on the full charge shown on the bill.   I found myself acting as the (unpaid) clerk handling our many mismanaged claims.

Even though electronic filing has eased some aspects of the claims process, prescribing, and reporting, it is not without problems.  A mistaken keystroke has more than once resulted in an incorrect prescription dosage--fortunately caught by an alert pharmacist--or erroneous quantities.  Because we no longer see the billing details, errors and oversights can occur; this is an invitation to fraud.  (In the past, hospitals found that having a patient review a paper bill resulted in significant savings.  Mistakes happen.)

*  Association plans:  Thanks to my writing (one of the few occupations compatible with my stay-at-home status) I was able to join the National Writers' Union, which offered insurance to members through an affiliation with the UAW.  Unfortunately, our rates were negotiated separately, so we had few protections.  We experienced several changes of insurers. (The advantage to us, personally, was that my husband was able to form his own small business again.  Until that time, we were hostage to our need for family coverage through his employment.)

The major insurance companies began backing away from 'association plans,' finding them inconvenient and citing rising costs.  The NWU policy changed carriers several times--and by 2002 we were paying $1200 per month for family coverage.  Ultimately, the NWU was signed up with Employers Mutual--which entity turned out to be a scam.  (Peter Jennings of ABC News reported on this in the early 2000's.)  We had paid thousands in premiums; no claims were satisfied until 10 years after the court-ordered process under a fiduciary agent.   Many victims died before they could be made whole financially.

Individual health plans:  There is no 'guaranteed issue' with such plans.  When the NWU could no longer offer insurance, we applied for a family policy and quickly found that not only was our daughter excluded--multiple chronic illnesses, a mobility disorder-- but also my husband--with sleep apnea and 100% compliant with C-PAP use-- was excluded as well.  They were uninsurable at any price.

*  Employer-based insurance:  With the collapse of the NWU insurance plans, and given our inability to get an individual policy,  I returned to the workforce, taking a job-share teaching position at a children's residential rehab facility.  Part-time work did not offer insurance benefits unless the individual (myself)  was willing to pay the full family-coverage premium.   The premiums were high, so I was basically working for insurance.   (It has become quite common for employers to split full-time positions, offering instead two part-time slots.  It saves money for the employer--but for the worker, not so much, even with the ACA.)  

*COBRA:  This welcome reform was helpful when our daughter graduated from college; she was able to continue with that insurance for the mandated three years.  At the end of that period, she was still in graduate school, and her only option was to seek an individual plan-- but she was still uninsurable at any price.

*  High Risk Pool:  Our daughter was able to show continuous coverage for a period of three + years, and it took about 10 seconds for her to obtain a Denial of Coverage from an insurer.  She entered the High Risk Pool in the State of Arkansas.  The problem, of course, is that these are a bad idea that doesn't work.  All the 'bad eggs'in one basket' means that costs spiral ever upward, while the minimal coverage continued to erode.  Enrollees were uncooperative, failing to die in suitable numbers.  What makes insurance work well is spreading the risk over a large group; ALL of us, together, can take care of EACH of us.  Creating innumerable separate pools encourages cherry-picking and excessive premium increases when a member of a particular pool happens to fall seriously ill. We've already lived through that scenario!  It's one of the problems that led most modern, industrialized nations to adopt universal single-payer health care insurance decades ago, with the exception, of course, of the USA and South Africa.   Some issues require the might and resources of the country's government in reaching a solution.  

*  The ACA, aka Obamacare:  By the time this reform emerged from the fray, many protections had been stripped away and common-sense steps like negotiated drug pricing had been left by the wayside.   Instead of tossing away the progress that HAS been made, our legislative bodies should put sensible pricing limits in place.  Insurers and practitioners will still make profits.  (I would point out that private insurers thrive even in countries with single-payer systems.)  

Before the ACA was passed, my husband and I had entered Medicare--the best insurance we've EVER had.  Operating on only 3% of its budget, Medicare handles our claims seamlessly, promptly, and correctly.  We go to 'any willing provider.'  We carry separate supplemental insurance and a drug policy, along with vision and dental coverage.  Our children--educated, employed, and independent-- are covered by their own policies.  (Our daughter, a Federal employee, has excellent coverage; she will have to see specialists as long as she lives.   Our son, working for a large corporation, has insurance he calls 'wonderful.'  When his fiancee suffered a stroke, it could have meant financial devastation--but it didn't.)  

Although the ACA came about only after we were unable to benefit from it, we celebrate this legislation. We know that many Arkansans have found it a life-saver--at times, literally.  Small business folk,  craftsmen, and artists can obtain coverage.  People who had put off medical care for years have been able to see physicians and surgeons.  The response seems to have surprised planners--some caregivers have been overwhelmed.  Arkansas is a poor state with a population that ranks low in health status.  Smoking; obesity; poor hygiene and basic care; diabetes; skin cancers; pesticide exposure--all of these contribute.  Life spans are shorter here.  

We've seen urgent care and walk-in clinics burgeoning; the ER is no longer the only place to go.  A new hospital was just built in Conway.  In a state where access to healthcare is often difficult, we need more, not fewer, facilities. 

I hope that you believe our government  programs and policies should not be dictated by insurance companies and drug manufacturers.  You are there to protect and defend people, not corporations.   The proposals of the RSC represent a return to many of the failed practices that made our lives (and our finances) problematic for decades. 
The nominee for head of HHS, Tom Price, does not have the perspective that I have offered for your consideration. Each Legislator is in a position to roll back real progress and return to discredited practices that burden families like ours......or, perhaps instead to seek bipartisan cooperation that improves on the partially-successful ACA.  

Very truly yours,


I'm publishing this belatedly--somehow overlooked it, as I haven't been blogging regularly.  That rascally FaceBook gets more than its fair share of attention!

Wes Lacewell and Beth Levi Win 2017 Arkansas Crossword Puzzle and Sudoku Championships

Wes Lacewell of Little Rock, a manager with the Division of Building Authority at the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, won the 10th annual Arkansas State Crossword Puzzle Championship Sunday afternoon at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. It was his third title having won previously in 2008 and 2009.  Beth Levi, a clinical professor at the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law, won the Sudoku competition for the eighth time. She also won in 2015 and 2016.

Retired Judge and Clinton Center volunteer Ellen Brantley was second in the crossword contest. Brantley is a two-time winner and this year marks her fourth time to finish second. Angelo Turturro, who is retired and lives in North Little Rock, was third.

Little Rock ophthalmologist Jim Deer finished second in the Sudoku competition. Robert Crook, senior database administrator with Talisys, a software and solutions firm in Little Rock, was third.

The championships were conducted by Little Rock District Judge Vic Fleming who constructs puzzles for the New York Times and other major publications. Deb Amlen, editor of the Wordplay crossword column in the New York Times, was the featured speaker.

The Clinton School has hosted the competition since its founding in 2007.


My friend Glenn and I have participated in this contest several times, and Glenn has been a first-place winner!  This year's event was part of the Arkansas Literary Festival and took place at Sturgis Hall, part of The Clinton Presidential Library Center.  A big storm the night before had knocked out the power to the building, and a very loud alarm was going off continuously.  The fire department finally got the darned thing turned down to a constant, faint beep beep that continued throughout the contest rounds.  A warm-up activity--matching puzzle quotes to famous names--was won by "The Three Wise Women"--a trio that included Glenn and myself.  I was fourth or fifth place in the crossword line-up, but there were so many puzzle books donated for prizes that I came home with two!  

Yay, puzzles!

"Big Bang Theory"

This is my most recent quilt--entered in the Hot Springs Quilt Show 2017.  

Each entry was required to include a brief description of the quilt, its inspiration, and so forth.  Here is what I wrote:

I began making these English paper-pieced stars more than 12 years ago, as a fairly inexperienced quilter.  (I progressed from hand-traced freezer-paper construction to computer-printed freezer paper to die-cut paper pieces from a commercial vendor; there were some sizing differences....)   For me it was a way to try a new technique and use small amounts of exciting fabrics like batiks.  

My design ideas going into the project were fuzzy "maybes,"  but as time passed ...and passed...our exploratory probes traveled into space to visit distant planets and the Hubble telescope sent amazing images of distant nebuli. I became interested in representing Outer Space in fabric, using my stars to illustrate "The Big Bang Theory."

I went through a number of  possible arrangements.  Then I had to construct all of the (English paper-pieced) background for the stars and come up with a way to join all of this into a quilt top using my machine (or else plan for it to take a century.)  

Can you find the Black Hole and the Star that has 'gone out'?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Eyes with which to see....

For some time I’ve been following a wide-ranging and thought-provoking blog entitled ‘Orange Crate Art,’ posted by a now-retired English professor in Illinois, Michael Leddy.  Recently he had posted on this subject:   ‘Being Wrong about Beauty.’

His post related to music appreciation, but another of his readers, ‘The Crow,’ posted her revelatory experience on Race and Beauty.  Here is (I hope) a link to Dr. Leddy’s blog.

Reading The Crow’s wonderful account of a life-changing experience led me to share the following in his Comments section (and then, via e-mail, a longer reflection on my upbringing.)

I am recalling a visit with my parents in their CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Center) where they spent their last years. Two meals each day were served in the dining room, and the wait-staff was drawn from the historically black colleges in the area, schools which benefitted from an annual scholarship fund created by the residents of the center. 

As different servers visited the table, taking orders, pouring water (remembering that my mother wanted only one ice cube), and bringing our meals, I commented to my father on the handsomeness of the young people--and I meant beauty aside from the glow of youth and health, beauty imparted by symmetry, exotic features, rich colors, the infinite variety of human forms. 

My dad gazed across the room and said, "Isn't it a shame that it took me until age 89 to realize that a black person could be beautiful?"

My father had always been silent on the subject of race (and the US military in which he spent his career had been desegregated the year I was born.) My mother had been more vocal, so I knew her views, but I was shocked to realize that my silent dad had been equally prejudiced. 

A mere idea can deprive humans of the ability to recognize what is in front of them, of 'eyes with which to see.' 

I found it interesting that both The Crow and I (I’m guessing we're of an age) had stories related to notions of beauty tied to Caucasian features.  
Here is more of my own story:

Although I was raised as an Army kid (living in diverse states and a foreign country) I was the daughter of Southern parents.  (Insert here my later observations that racial prejudice is firmly implanted in all parts of our nation.)  

We (our Mother and we three children) were sent to Germany in January, 1951, to join our husband/father; these were the post-war Army of Occupation years, and we were among the first dependents.  (There were a lot of regulations:  we had to live 'on the economy,' employ at least one German national, use only scrip--no US money allowed--or DM, and my father had to wear his uniform at all times in public, even on vacations.)  I was three and a half when we arrived in W. Germany, and in time I attended Darmstadt American School (run by the DoD) for Kindergarten and 1st grade.  Thanks to Truman's desegregation order, I went to school with students of all races, and in fact my teacher in a combined Kg/1 classroom was African-American.  

Now, my mother struggled all her life with a significant learning disability--reading, writing, and even speaking were issues for her.  She could barely read, and her spelling was atrocious throughout her life.  (At least part of my interest in special education related to the mystery of her difficulties.) was a thrill to have a teacher who read fluently to us, (and I still recall the instant I 'got it,' and could read for myself--no thanks to those awful Dick and Jane books.)  I adored school; I came home every day and set up a classroom for my dolls and my little brother.

In any case, no discussions of race took place, though years down the road I read some of Mother's letters home to Granny and Grandpa in Georgia, and she stated that she “wasn't too crazy about Elaine’s having a colored teacher.”

Eventually Dad received orders to rotate back to the States, being assigned to Ft. Chaffee, outside of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, where we arrived in August, 1954.  It was like being dropped on Mars--first, the incredible heat compared to the climate in Europe--(that summer is still mentioned for its epic high temps--and no one had a/c); then, the money--I had no memory of ever having seen US coins and had a hard time telling them apart; and the school--no buses!....And:  nobody but white kids.  I don't even think I noticed that at the time.   

Right about then, Mother decided it was time to indoctrinate us regarding some of the new realities.  She sat us down and explained about colored people:  all the usual--ignorant, superstitious, inferior, dirty, menacing. As Oscar Hammerstein wrote, "You have to be carefully taught."  Deeply prejudiced as she was, neither she nor my father would have stooped to use 'the N word,' though I remember hearing 'Nigra.'  I listened to all of this, and then I thought about my teacher, whom I had worshipped.  Right then, I knew that my mother just didn't know what she was talking about.  

I think that many Baby Boomers may have similar stories-- realizing that some 'facts' were simply not so.  And in time, it became impossible to ignore the injustices and the righteous push for Civil Rights.  We were still in Ft. Smith in 1957, (our husband/dad having been sent to S. Korea), when Little Rock's Central High School was desegregated.  We did not have a TV, but we did have newspaper delivery; I will never forget the now-infamous photo of the woman screaming her hatred into the impassive faces of the Little Rock Nine.  Such a shock.  So I sat down and read the newspaper, a first time for ten-year-old me, because until then I read only the funnies.  

Of course I know there are plenty of Boomers who have had no ?exposure? transformative experiences? (What word do I need here?) ..........
Various acquaintances have at times shocked me by exposing prejudices through tasteless jokes or bald statements.  All or most of them were well-educated and had had every opportunity to know better....  Even people who are otherwise decent can somehow bear these  ideas--just as my father had.  

Well, I have no idea where to go with this, but now, sixty years later, in 2017, in the newly-refreshed atmosphere of Hate, it seems important to think on these things and try to come up with ways to counter injustice, fear, and prejudice of every kind.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Quilts for a Grand-Nephew

My baby brother (now 65) has become a grand-dad; that means my older sister and I are now great-aunts!  It is always a thrill when the Younger Generation produces the Next Generation.  As soon as I heard the happy news of great expectations, I inquired of nephew Ben and his lovely wife Amy whether any of her family were quilters (and planning a baby quilt.)  Nope!  So I got the go-ahead to make a quilt using blues!  

I sorted through my blue fabric stash until I had a nice combination; I did add a couple of fabrics during the Hot Springs quilt show, and I found a sailboat print (Moda Fabrics, from the 'Passport' design line.)  The design was in my head long before I started constructing.  This was my first time making 'Lady of the Lake' blocks, and of course it all took me longer than I had hoped....and the baby arrived one jump ahead of completion.  That was fine, though, as I could add his birthdate and stats to the quilt label!

One critique from my quilting circle:  "Elaine, NObody is going to use that quilt for a baby!  Just put a hanging sleeve on it!"
So I made the second quilt.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

September: Mississippi Gulf Coast

The DHubby and I decided to make a trek to an unexplored area--at least, we haven't visited it before.  In past years we enjoyed the Texas Gulf around Rockport--especially Goose Island--and Aransas Pass (Mustang Island.)  That's a couple of days away, though, and we are thinking ahead about April--for a 75th birthday celebration and gathering the whole family.  We wanted an area with many attractions and activities, preferably some place a little different.  After some research, we reserved a small apartment via HomeAway, located in Gulfport.  We focused our attention on Gulfport and points west, with special attention to fishing piers, beach access, and so forth.  
Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, much infrastructure has been rebuilt (and an artificial reef created offshore from solid debris.)  The white-sand beaches have no surf, no shells, which somewhat explains why many tourists head for Alabama and Florida cities.  

The park pavilion is seen from the long breakwater and fishing pier.

Further east, Biloxi and Ocean Springs feature many more casinos and high-rise condominiums.  All of these communities lie along the Beach Boulevard and rail lines (with frequent trains) run parallel to the busy highway.  

Shore birds!

I was able to walk 2 miles down the beach--and could have kept going.  I had it all to myself on the weekday (except, alas, for the trash left behind by weekend revelers.  I collected what I could and slogged to a trash receptacle.  I also returned a number of hermit crabs to the shoreline and picked up some lost sand molds--free toys!

Don fished two different piers, and we enjoyed his white sea trout for two of our evening meals.  

We checked out the pier at Long Beach and then drove past Pass Christian and over the Bay St. Louis (not pronounced 'Looey!') Bridge to visit prospective rentals. 
Our favorite place turned out to be 'Old Town' Bay St. Louis--full of charming spots and entertaining decor.  (And yes, we did find a place that we decided to reserve.)  
Here are some of the spots we noted:

The 'discoverer' of Bay St. Louis was Jean-Baptiste LeMoyne--1699.  

 In front of a church stood this impressive live oak--trees that withstood Katrina's damaging winds and flooding with surprising success.  The fire hydrant was imaginatively painted with an angel.  


They're not kidding!  Delightful spot.  We bought Multigrain Sourdough (wonderful) and a giant cookie.  The BSL muffin we sampled was to die for....  

Also seen:

...and last but not least:
We'll be back!!!

Rose 'Crepuscular'

Asparagus bed--post harvest

Lake Conway Mutti und Kinder