Winds of Time

In this neck of the Southern Ohio woods we had a big wind storm on Wednesday.

It blew my stepladder across the yard.  A lawn chair went on walkabout, and another decided to hide in the bushes.  The new fancy high-gain radio antenna provided by my broadband internet provider turned its back to the wind and almost wiggled loose from its roof-line mounting bracket.

Of more importance trees, cracked and stressed from the recent ice storm, gave up hanging onto their limbs and disrupted power lines.  We were without power for over 12 hours.  I feel lucky because the weather was warmer, and if I had to choose, I would choose to lose power during a warm wind storm instead of a bone chilling ice storm.  So, believe me when I say that I am not complaining.  Not one bit.

There was an interesting thing that happened while the power was out.  After I assured myself that we were not going to suffer any catastrophic damage, and Doris and I had set out candles; after the sun set and the doors and curtains were closed against the dark; after the power returned for a flirtatious fifteen minutes before vanishing again; after all of this I found myself curled up on the couch under a warm quilt reading by candlelight.

Except for the light source, the evening reminded me so much of the many evenings I had as a kid.  I grew up–well lets say ‘went many years’–without a TV.  Our entertainment was reading.  That is what I did while the wind howled outside.  I read.  I finished off a novella I had started.  It was the longest sustained reading period I have had in recent memory.  Close to three hours straight, just me and the story.  It was a blast.  I have gotten into the habit of reading in snatches; a few minutes here, maybe a half-hour there.  I am going to try and block off bigger chunks of time to devote to just reading.

After I finished reading I had a strange experience.  I have written some fiction every single day since the first of the year.  I had not gotten around to writing earlier in the day and with the power off my brain sort of shut off as well, informing me that my streak of days of continuous writing was over.  It wasn’t until I went to write “wooden matches” on the grocery list that it, um, occurred to me that pen and paper did not require electricity.  I grabbed a spiral notebook, ran through my mind the story I am currently writing, and filled a page.  261 words later, the streak was still intact.

The winds gave me time to destress as well.  Something I didn’t realize I needed before the power went out.  Work has been getting to me a bit.

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Thinking Positive

I have finally started being a little more optimistic lately.

Things at work are going better.  Not a lot better, but some of the irritating things are better.  We also have better support.  With our New project manager we also got people assigned to the team in other slots that had been vacant since 2005 and in one case since 2003.  We are still down one senior programmer.  Granted, most of these new folks have a steep learning curve, and there is no guarantee that they will still be around a six months from now, but at least they are enthusiastic and bright.  One of the things that was worrying me was our broadband connection.  When the broadband doesn’t work, neither do I.  It was finally serviced and (knock on wood) appears to be stable again.  As soon as I am up to it, I am going to anchor the antenna with some quy wires.

My health is better.  Overall, that is.  I had the worst bout of back-to-back colds in December that I have had since returning to Ohio in 1999.  Yesterday, I twisted wrong, and I have a spasm in my upper back.  But these are the anomalies.  I have been getting good exercise and my back has been much less of a problem overall.  Now that we are watching the grandson less, there will be less sharing of the colds his parents bring home from work.

My comfort level with writing is the highest it has ever been, I think.  I have been able to write at least 100 words each day since the new year began (actually, since before the new year, I just started counting on Jan 1st).

I realized while I was sitting here reading emails and blogs, that I really have been tinking positive lately.  It feels good.

Been Busy Writing…

No post here for a while ’cause I been busy writing elsewhere. I finished off another new story and sent it out. I got a rejection of a flash story, tweaked it a bit and sent it on to another flash friendly magazine. I am also currently revising a story I started back in the late 90’s, finished a draft of last summer, and let sit. Even I recognized that the opening was slow on this one, and didn’t bother sending it out. As soon as I get the opening moving a little faster, it is going to go out. That will hopefully happen in a day or two.

I have had a small epiphany of sorts. I can look at stories I write and actually see where they bog down or are overly wordy. I couldn’t do that just a few months ago. I don’t have a definitive list or anything but I am going to finish all the stories that I have started. Maybe I should make a definitive list of all the stories I have in progress, just to keep track of them.

I feel good about some of the stories that are in various slush piles. Three of them I have very high hopes for. One of those stories sparked one of my family members to request more stories involving the main character. I have notes for at least five more stories. The character and world have really gotten my creative juices flowing. I have a few other stories that are almost finished and some completely new ideas that keep bouncing around in my head that need to get out.

I am happy with my enthusiasm. This blog served as a catalyst to get me in the habit of trying to write something every single day. It has worked. However, I am no longer going to try to get an entry posted here every day or even every other day, but I am not going to abandon this blog. I have three magazine reviews to complete and a few movie reviews as well. I’ll get those posted soon. There are days when I wish I was independently wealthy and could afford to be a full time writer. Well… maybe when I retire.

I don’t trust medical billing services…

Medical bills need a special level of attention. Not only don’t I trust the insurance company to do the right thing, but I also don’t trust the medical billing services that most of the local health providers use.

From the insurance company angle, I have to be alert to denials of coverage that shouldn’t have been issued. The denial always seems to be in direct proportion to the amount of the bill. (Higher the bill the more likely it will be denied.) This is just an occasional thing.

The worst part of keeping track of medical bills are the billing services. Most of them are either totally inept or totally criminal.

Some of the screwy things I have seen include:

1) Treating my insurance co-pay as if it were the disbursement from the insurance company and then trying to collect from me the funds that the insurance company already sent them. This is subtle and sneaky.

2) Similar to the above except the insurance plan “write off” (if less than the disbursement) is entered as the disbursement. Again they are trying to collect the same money the insurance company already sent them.

3) Sending bills in two totally different styles a week apart. The billing service for the major hospital in the area does this. First you get a simple black and white bill, then about a week later you get a fancy light blue bill for the same visit. If you are not paying attention you could end up paying twice. When I did this once, they politely held on to my money until I figured it out on my own. They refunded my money, but I had to discover the mistake and ask for it.

4) This is the newest one… The billing office calls demanding payment before any bill of any sort ever is sent to you. They make it sound as if the account is going to go to collections if you don’t make arrangements over the phone right then and there. Then… a few days later, the bill arrives in the mail. The timing makes me think that it is mailed the same day the call is made. Again, if you are not careful, you could double pay the bill.

5) The worst is when they apply a payment to the wrong bill. It seems to always happen when the billing service has already implemented trick #1 or #2 above and they want to confuse you so that you do not notice the switch. This was so bad at one point that for one payment I sent in, they were taking a few dollars from it and spreading it across six or seven different bills, none of which had the same billing account number as the one sent in with the payment. At this point, I was still trying to accommodate the errors and to make sure that the amounts still balanced. When one nasty hairball of cross posting amounts and misapplying insurance disbursements finally foiled even my skills of logic to untangle, Doris convinced me to demand that they correct it all on their end. So I waited until the inevitable call came from the billing service to demand payment. I then looked up the bill, and gave the person the check number that I payed it with, and told them it was already paid. When they started the song and dance that the money had been applied elsewhere and that I still needed to pay it, I held my ground and insisted that they correct the numbers on their end because “I had already paid THAT bill.” For months the same kind of calls happened over and over. Sometimes they fixed the numbers, sometimes not. I kept paying the bills that I knew I owed, but not any in the hairball. This kept up until they threatened me with sending it to collections. At this point I collected all my paperwork and physically marched into the billing office and loudly started exposing their ineptitude and/or dirty tricks. After only a few minutes a manager, whose voice I recognized from many telephone calls, came bustling out of her inner sanctum and jotted down my name, etc. and told me she would personally see that it was all straightened out and that I should have just called instead of harassing her staff. I pulled a sheet of paper and started listing the dates that I had spoken specifically with her about this same issue. She actually yelped. I demanded to see a complete billing statement for all five of my family members for the entire year when she was finished.

The tricks or “mistakes” keep happening, but now I just blast them and make them correct their “accounting” error immediately.

My previous method of keeping track of everything was overly complex, and was designed to help me work around they games they played with my money. Now that I am no longer playing along, I needed a simpler system; especially now that I have a child living out of state. I sat down last weekend and set up a simple “in, pending, out” filing system for each member of the family. I sorted every medical bill from this year into the apprpriate file folders, and all is good. Now I’ll be able to lay my hands on all the records quickly for when those pesky billing calls interrupt dinner.

Scratch Things #32 and #33 from my list of 101 things to do in 1001 days.

32. Organize medical bills
33. Create better system for keeping track of medical expenses

Scratch Thing #70

70. Replace both couches

I guess you could say we are frugal. We purchased a couch when we lived in Chicagoland and were still using it yesterday, some 15 years later. The love seat we had was a hand-me-down (albeit a nice one) from a relative. The couch fabric was splitting and the love seats springs were broken and unrepairable.

They have been that way for over a year.

I could blame budget concerns (being frugal can account for part of the purchase delay), but this was primarily a procrastination thing. Deciding on what to purchase was the biggest concern for me. I didn’t look hard or do a lot of comparison shopping, but I have concluded that most furniture being built for the US market is not the same quality it was 10 or 15 years ago. The high price, high end furniture excepted because I did not look at any of it. Budget would not allow a purchase that large.

We settled on replacing the love seat and couch with two couches from Big Lots! Our oldest boy Justin works there, and at least around here, they currently have the best quality furniture and selection for the best price. The local big box store only carries college dorm room style furniture. The only two furniture stores in Waverly have closed their doors. The two furniture stores in Chillicothe that I was aware of have also closed their doors. This left slim pickings.

The couches may not have the longevity of the old ones, but only time will tell on that score. But they look nice, and they sit well which is important for my back. Justin made a cartoon drawing of me sitting on the old couch that he labeled “slouch cam”. It sat low enough that if I tried to sit on it with a straight back for a long period of time, my legs would go numb. So, I slouched. More often, I’d just lie down. I think these new couches are going to be a big improvement.

Scratch Thing #60

60. Power wash back of house/return power washer

If there is a lesson to be learned by the readers of this blog, it is be cautious what you lend me. It may be a while before I return it.

I borrowed a power washer from a good friend over a year ago. This spring I finally got around to power washing the front and both sides of the house. It took until this fall to finish up the backside of the house and return the power washer. Good thing I have kind and patient friends! I bet if I asked to borrow it again, it would be on my front step ASAP.

The back of the house was in a word, dirty. Because of the direction the wind normally blows here at Swamp Acres, the wind whips and swirls at the back of the house like the wind off the back of a large truck. This results in an eddy of wind that tosses dirt back up against the house. Similar eddies are what cause the back of any car, truck or van to be dirtier than the rest of the vehicle. It is also has a mostly northern exposure. This results in moss growing on the slabs of concrete outside the two patio doors. Extra dirt, moss, procrastination inclinations; it adds up to a recipe that only needs a cold breezy autumn day and a deadline to return a power washer to be complete.

But it got done. We can laugh at it, and at me, now. Good thing that good friend likes cool weather, because it looks like he will be power washing his deck on a cool and breezy autumn day.

Overheard at the Pharmacy…

I didn’t catch the entire exchange… so I am going to present it as if it were a joke, although I wonder if it wasn’t. You never can tell with some people.

Lady: So I went to that fast food place.

Pharmacist: Um-hmm.

Lady: The service was terrible and when the cashier finally brought me my salad she said “I am sorry about your wait.”

Pharmacist: Um-hmm.

Lady: Well I was never so insulted in all my life! I told that cashier that I was sorry about my weight as well. I mean, why did she think I was ordering a salad instead of a burger and fries! I have put on a few pound recently, but really, to bring up my weight right there in front of all those other customers… well, it was just rude!

Pharmacist: What?

Brain Freeze the Hard Way …

Ever had a brain freeze? You know that short duration pain you get in your head when you take a big mouthful of something very cold like ice cream? Well, I can get brain freeze without eating anything cold. I get brain freeze the hard way.

I have arthritis. I have had it for many, many, many years now. I have always disliked the cold and even air conditioning in the summer time can be unpleasant. I can equate the quality of my arthritis pain to that burst of pain one feels with a brain freeze. But unlike a brain freeze the my arthritis pain never totally goes away unless I take medicine or I find a way to get totally warm. I am one of those people that avoids taking medicines. I have learned to just live with the everyday version of my pain.

Yet there are times when intense pain can’t be avoided, like on winter days when doing something with my hands requires that I take my arctic rated gloves off. Even indoors I can’t totally avoid the pain, like today when I was breaking apart the frozen hamburgers I am cooking for dinner. It has been ten minutes and the pain from that cold is still seated in my wrists and fingers. I decided to type this entry in an attempt to get the blood flowing and work out the stiffness and pain.

I am not referring to the normal arthritis pain when I talk about getting a brain freeze the hard way. You see, I have learned over the three decades that I have battled arthritis that the best way to deal with the cold is to just keep at a task until either I finish it, or I lose the ability to use my hands. I have literally been unable to grasp a zipper tag to take off a coat or jacket. Once I was barely able to turn a doorknob. But I am off track here and that story will have to wait.

I packaged the hamburgers wrong when I froze them. I didn’t put enough wrap between the patties and they stuck together. So, you see, this is all my own fault. It took a while for me to get them apart.

Recall that brain freeze pain? Keep it in mind. Imagine it hitting your fingers and wrists instead of your brain. Now imagine it inching up your forearms to your elbows, and then on to your shoulders. The speed of the pain speeds up now and almost as quickly as you could move a spoonful of ice cream from the bowl to your mouth, imagine that pain jumping to your spine, up your neck and into your brain. Brain Freeze. The hard way!

It is somewhat different. A normal ‘eating something cold’ brain freeze occurs in the front part of your brain, or sometimes near the temples. Hard Way brain freeze hits the back of your head and then the top. Same sensation, just a different area.

I know people that take tiny bites of cold things because they hate brain freeze. I know people that take huge bites just to get that short shock of pain. I envy them.

Procrastination Cessation …

Hello. I am a procrastinator. I sometimes can keep my head down and get things done, but over the last year I have really let a lot of things slip. I am going to rectify that.

I stumbled across an interesting meme here on the internet. It is called “101 Things to Do in 1001 Days“. The idea is to complete 101 preset tasks in a period of 1001 days. The tasks must be specific (i.e. no ambiguity in the wording) with a result that is either measurable or clearly defined. Tasks must also be realistic and stretching (i.e. represent some amount of work on my part). I realize that some of the tasks on my list may not seem to fit the requirements, but I think that even the most mundane ones will be stretching (and hopefully breaking) my procrastination. I like this meme because it gives focus like other “beating procrastination” exercises, but it also sets a time table that won’t cause panic or frustration. 1001 days is approximately 2.74059 years. That is a long time.

I am going to participate. But a lot can happen in 2 and three quarter years. Kids get married or graduate from college. There could be more grandkids. We could win the lottery. For this reason I am reserving the right to revise this list based on a major life event. I mean, if I win the lottery then fixing the van is not a stretching task anymore, right. A stretching task to replace the van task would be setting up trust funds for loved ones, or building them houses.

My list of 101 Things can be found on the sidebar as a sub-page under “About Me.” It contains such mundane things as taking care of all the broken door knobs in our house, and using and returning a power washer I borrowed from a friend over a year ago. It contains necessary things like doing my back exercises and and cleaning up my pack-rat messes (I am a hoarder of useless things. It’s genetic.) The task list has a few hard things like learning to read music (which I have failed at before), and important things like working with my parents and sister on formalizing the ownership of the family farm to protect it from seizure should my parents’ medical costs spiral out of control. It also has fun things for me, like going on a “get away” with just Doris (beach, cabin in the woods; something we have talked about for years), and reading all the Hugo Award winning novels that I have not yet read.

I took me the better part of a week to create the list. I strove hard to keep all the tasks realistic and important, even the fun ones. Don’t wish me luck, tell me “It’s about time!”

Road Trip (070803)

Another road trip to Pittsburgh and back today. Derek wanted to spend some time with his nephew Owen. I was happy to oblige.

Chris came along again, and we had fun talking and listening to music. He has a Steppenwolf CD and the Credence Clearwater Revival 24 Carets three CD collection. My voice is nearly gone from singing along with all of that music. On the return trip, Derek hooked his mp3 player up to the car stereo and played samples of music he has been listening to. I really liked the band Metric. Emily Haines has a wonderful voice. Derek said this was an early album, and that the band changed their style for the more recent albums. He also played more Modest Mouse for me. They are good. The best surprise was how much Dream Theater sounds like Boston. Similar, yet distinctly different. Besides some familiar sounding guitar work, the lead singer seems to have a very good vocal range and hits notes like Brad Delp could.

I have made this trip many times now, and it really amazes me how short the trip seems when I have my boys with me. When I took Derek back to Pittsburgh after his all too short summer break, I had to drive home alone, and it seemed to take forever. I have to take Derek back on Sunday… so another trip is in order. But it is so worth having the entire family around this weekend. The entropy of the universe seems hell bent on pulling us all in different directions. I know that I need to fight the chaos and pull them close to me every single chance I get. Tomorrow the boys and I are going to a movie together. We use to go to movies often, and always seemed to be able to see one during the Christmas holiday season. But the last few years have shown that it is hard to keep traditions going. I plan on enjoying these next two days as much as possible.