2014 – ELECTION DAY

Our polling place is at the intersection of “Fair Street” and “Dead End.”

We are a microcosm of this country … but we also different. We’re live in a liberal, highly educated and urbanized state, yet ours is a rural community. We express the characteristics of rural, urban and suburban areas. We are every-man and every-woman while remaining uniquely ourselves.

We vote. Our polls are busy, but lines move briskly. I could vote by absentee ballot, but I enjoy going to the polls. I even like waiting on line.

Last time I voted, Barack Obama was reelected. Two years later, the results of that election are troubling. The U.S.A. is divided along racial lines. The south still votes white, but it’s not just the south. In many regions, white men vote for other white men and their “issues.”

Women and minorities are losing traction. Socially, culturally, we are moving backwards. I thought these issues were settled decades ago, when I was a young woman and I’m appalled to find them back on the table.

How come we are still debating a woman’s right to have an abortion or have free access to birth control? At what point do we finished debating and get on with living? When are women, who are actually a majority in this country, become permanently free to choose what is done to our bodies?

How did religion get in the mix, creep back into the body politic? How did we allow a religious fundamentalist minority to become kingmakers in a country where freedom of religion and separation of church and state are fundamental tenets of our way of life?

How come we are still fighting the Civil War?

How is it possible so many Americas are so ill-informed about their own history they have never heard of the Articles of Confederation? They don’t know how their proposed “fixes” to today’s problems already failed? That their “new proposals” are historical disasters?

When did we become a nation of ignoramuses?

Around here, voting is a different experience than in more populous areas. Massachusetts is as far from a battleground state as you can get. No doubt we have our share of die-hard Republican voters, but we are as “blue” as an electorate can be.

It’s one of the reasons, although I would love a less harsh winter, the political climate suits me well. The idea of moving to a state where racist, anti-gay, and anti-woman attitudes are major political forces makes my stomach heave. The idea of living under the tyranny of fundamentalism makes me ill.

Around here, many incumbents run unopposed. Most are Democrats, but a couple are Republican and a few are unaffiliated. I guess people figure if our representatives are doing their jobs well, there’s no reason to make it into a battle.

At what point will the virulence of partisan politics ebb? When can we remember we are Americans? All of us are Americans regardless of our political affiliation.

If we can’t hang together, we will surely hang separately. History has proved it time and again. Empires fall from dissension within. It can and will happen here unless most of us start to behave like members of one nation.

The frothing at the mouth rage and rhetoric is killing us. Unless we let go of the hate, I don’t see how we can continue to be any kind of nation. Under God or not, we need to be a people, not a bunch of ill-mannered children whacking each other with our shovels in the sandbox.

Ogunquit, Maine: Sunrise, Sand, Rivers, Feathered and Other Friends – Marilyn Armstrong

Autumnal equinox in the northern latitudes. September. A week in Ogunquit, Maine. A tiny place but close to the beach and the river.

There are more people on the beach to see the dawn than I ever expected — there just for the peace and the beauty. Before the sun is up, the mist hangs on the sand.

Quiet this time of year. Most tourists are gone, now, so the streets aren’t crowded.

The moment there is a hint of sun, the mist disappears in a matter of seconds.

There is no more perfect time to be on the seashore of Maine than the very earliest part of Autumn.

Comes the sun …

If you are a photographer, you make take it as a sign that God loves you when having hauled your reluctant body out of bed while it’s still dark, then hike half a mile carrying all your gear to the beach while all the starving blood-sucking insects in the state gather to enjoy you as their breakfast buffet.

Suffer for your art? But you get a reward that is more than worth any and all of your efforts, because before you, as the mist burns away, a sunrise and a golden sun so breathtaking rises before you … and you are there and ready.

People of all ages walk along the water before dawn.

This is a day when your camera works perfectly, your batteries don’t run out, your lens is in perfect alignment, your eyes see and you capture exactly what you want to capture … and everything is in focus.

Then come the birds … terns, plovers, and gulls … Breakfast for the feathered residents.

Tiny plovers comfortably share the shore with one Great Black Backed Gull.

It doesn’t happen often. When it does, when it all comes together perfectly … then you must treasure it … savor it … and share it.

At times like these, it makes you remember why you started taking pictures in the first place.

The rising sun reflects on the sand as if it were polished glass.

That morning I discovered wet sand reflects light like a mirror. You can see the way the tide changes the shape of the sand along the shore.

The big seagull seems to be waiting for the sun to come up dissipating the last of the early mist.

The colors change from one second to the next.

Each moment is more beautiful than the one before it. Really, the entire time is probably no more than half an hour, but it’s a lifetime of beauty.

Then, final gold before full sunlight.

Later, I walked to the river and found this house. This is the Ogunquit River, just about a quarter of a mile before it joins the ocean. The house is virtually part of the river.

The only way I could find to get across the river to the house was by this “bridge,” really just a piece of wood across the rapids and falls. I declined to test it.

What happens in times of flood? Interesting place to build!

And finally, on my way back to our room, I found a hint of autumn near the beach in a small woodland area between the marsh and the shore.

DAILY PROMPT: MONEY FOR NOTHING – RUINED FOR WORK

Daily Prompt: Money for Nothing

I had been looking for a job that would let me flex my hours so Garry and I could spend time together. It was difficult. He worked terribly long hours, gone before the sun came up and not home until it was dark again. Ironic. Most people think reporters work “a few minutes a day” because that’s all they see on the news. Not true.

To get those few minutes of finished news on the air, they drag themselves through every kind of weather — blizzards, hurricanes, bitter cold, unbearable heat — and endless traffic, from one end of the state to another. They are often on the scene of the worst imaginable horrors before the first responders arrive.

And they have to look good while doing it. Without a break for lunch or even a bathroom. Someone once commented it’s like being in the army, just without the uniform.

His days off were Wednesday and Thursday. That meant we had barely a few minutes after work to meet and greet each other. Everything else waited until vacation. By which time Garry was exhausted and needed two weeks of sleep to recuperate so he could go back to work again.

The good part of his job? He loved it. I think everyone in the news business is an adrenaline junkie. The thrill of getting the scoop, tracking down the story, coming up with a different angle on something every other station is also doing and sometimes, finding new information to crack open a case. Garry loved his work. He didn’t love every single moment of it, but he loved most of it, loved knowing he could make a difference, shine a light into a dark corner and fix something that had been broken.

When I married him, I married his work. No whining about him missing all the family events, never being around to help with the housework or the shopping. I knew from the get-go I’d be keeping his dinner warm for whenever he got home. That was the deal we made. We didn’t spell it out, but we both understood. We were social equals, but his job came first. Period. End of story.

dream-job-1024x682

One day, I got a call. A large HMO was looking for a technical writer to put together documents for their various computer programs. Aimed at users, this was entry-level stuff. For me, used to working on really complex software, it was a piece of cake — with icing.

I went to the interview. Bad part? It was a part-time job, paying (25 years ago money was worth more) a retainer. I would be paid for 20 hours a week at $25 an hour, less than my usual rate. But it was a retainer and all you freelancers out there know that there’s nothing better than a retainer. I might work all 20 hours, or no hours, depending on what was going on. I would not be required to go into the office. At all. Ever. I would work from home or wherever I and my computer might be, including the back porch of the house on the Vineyard.

It was half the money I’d been earning, but I could take free-lance gigs to make up the gap.

I took the job. This was a job from Heaven. When I accepted it, I figured I’d be working most of the 20 hours. It turned out … there wasn’t any work. Or almost none. Weeks and months went by. I would call to find out if maybe they’d forgotten me and didn’t they want me to do something? No, everything is fine, they said. No problem. We’ll call you. Once in long while, they did call and for a few days, I worked. It was almost a relief. Even though it was writing I could do in my sleep.

For a couple of years, I got a steady paycheck for which I did essentially nothing. I did a bit of free-lance stuff here and there and was obliged to bring a laptop with me when I went on vacation, just in case. It was the dream job: getting paid and not having to work for it.

One day, I picked up the Boston Globe and discovered the division for which I worked was being disbanded. Apparently someone noticed that no one in the department actually worked. So I called my boss, Anita.

“Anita,” I said. “I was reading the Globe this morning. Does this mean I have to look for a new job?”

“Yes,” she sighed. “We all do. But you’ve got three or four months, so you should be fine.”

I couldn’t believe it. They were taking away the best job in the world. I was going to have to go to work, show up at an office. Stay there all day. What a horrible thought!

I went job hunting and found what would turn out to the best real job I ever had. The best colleagues and absolutely the greatest boss. But it was work. I had to think (a lot), learn (like getting a masters in advanced object linking in a couple of weeks), synthesize, design documents, write them. Back to meeting deadlines. My 2-year paid vacation had not eliminated my skills. I was as good as ever. But.

Never again would I feel comfortable in a 9 to 5 job although I worked them for twenty more years. I got terribly restless. Just having to be in one place for all those hours made me itchy. I got my work done and done well, but I was spoiled. No regular job felt right.

I was ruined for the real world.

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THE JOB THAT RUINED ME FOR WORK

I had been looking for a job that would let me flex my hours so Garry and I could spend time together. It was difficult. He worked terribly long hours, gone before the sun came up and not home until it was dark again. Ironic. Most people think reporters work “a few minutes a day” because that’s all they see on the news. Not true.

To get those few minutes of finished news on the air, they drag themselves through every kind of weather — blizzards, hurricanes, bitter cold, unbearable heat — and endless traffic, from one end of the state to another. They are often on the scene of the worst imaginable horrors before the first responders arrive.

And they have to look good while doing it. Without a break for lunch or even a bathroom. Someone once commented it’s like being in the army, just without the uniform.

His days off were Wednesday and Thursday. That meant we had barely a few minutes after work to meet and greet each other. Everything else waited until vacation. By which time Garry was exhausted and needed two weeks of sleep to recuperate so he could go back to work again.

The good part of his job? He loved it. I think everyone in the news business is an adrenaline junkie. The thrill of getting the scoop, tracking down the story, coming up with a different angle on something every other station is also doing and sometimes, finding new information to crack open a case. Garry loved his work. He didn’t love every single moment of it, but he loved most of it, loved knowing he could make a difference, shine a light into a dark corner and fix something that had been broken.

When I married him, I married his work. No whining about him missing all the family events, never being around to help with the housework or the shopping. I knew from the get-go I’d be keeping his dinner warm for whenever he got home. That was the deal we made. We didn’t spell it out, but we both understood. We were social equals, but his job came first. Period. End of story.

dream-job-1024x682

One day, I got a call. They were looking for a technical writer to put together documents for their various computer programs. Aimed at users, this was entry-level stuff. For me, used to working on really complex software, it was a piece of cake — with icing.

I went to the interview. Bad part? It was a part-time job, paying (25 years ago money was worth more) a retainer. I would be paid for 20 hours a week at $25 an hour, less than my usual rate. But it was a retainer and all you freelancers out there know that there’s nothing better than a retainer. I might work all 20 hours, or no hours, depending on what was going on. I would not be required to go into the office. At all. Ever. I would work from home or wherever I and my computer might be, including the back porch of the house on the Vineyard.

It was half the money I’d been earning, but I could take free-lance gigs to make up the gap.

I took the job. This was a job from Heaven. When I accepted it, I figured I’d be working most of the 20 hours. It turned out … there wasn’t any work. Or almost none. Weeks and months went by. I would call to find out if maybe they’d forgotten me and didn’t they want me to do something? No, everything is fine, they said. No problem. We’ll call you. Once in long while, they did call and for a few days, I worked. It was almost a relief. Even though it was writing I could do in my sleep.

For a couple of years, I got a steady paycheck for which I did essentially nothing. I did a bit of free-lance stuff here and there and was obliged to bring a laptop with me when I went on vacation, just in case. It was the dream job: getting paid and not having to work for it.

One day, I picked up the Boston Globe and discovered the division for which I worked was being disbanded. Apparently someone noticed that no one in the department actually worked. So I called my boss, Anita.

“Anita,” I said. “I was reading the Globe this morning. Does this mean I have to look for a new job?”

“Yes,” she sighed. “We all do. But you’ve got three or four months, so you should be fine.”

I couldn’t believe it. They were taking away the best job in the world. I was going to have to go to work, show up at an office. Stay there all day. What a horrible thought!

I went job hunting and found what would turn out to the best real job I ever had. The best colleagues and absolutely the greatest boss. But it was work. I had to think (a lot), learn (like getting a masters in advanced object linking in a couple of weeks), synthesize, design documents, write them. Back to meeting deadlines. My 2-year paid vacation had not eliminated my skills. I was as good as ever. But.

Never again would I feel comfortable in a 9 to 5 job although I worked them for twenty more years. I got terribly restless. Just having to be in one place for all those hours made me itchy. I got my work done and done well, but I was spoiled. No regular job felt right.

I was ruined for the real world.

MEDICARE – MAKIN’ ME CRAZY! IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS BAD (REALLY)

I have a high IQ. I know this. I don’t say this as a brag, but as an illustration of the problem. I spent my professional life writing highly technical documents which means I know how to read a document too. I need to switch from my “Medicare Advantage Plan” — the ultimate oxymoronic misnomer — to straight Medicare backed by a Medicare Supplement Plan and a Part D Prescription plan. Which is what I had before I changed to my current horrible plan.

medicare confusion

When I signed up for this plan exactly one year ago, it had maximum out-of-pocket costs of just over $2200. Next year, it would be $6700+. They haven’t raised the premium, just reduced the benefits. We do not have $6700 and could not raise it if we sold everything we own. So I need to change plans. I have to get something that will cover me really, even though the premiums will be more than triple what they are now. Mind you I can’t afford higher premiums, but I’m out of choices. My life’s on the line, so I have to make this work.

This is not A.C.A. — aka Obama Care. This is regular old Medicare. It was like this when I first signed on (2004) except the premiums and deductibles were much lower and covered more.

They’ve been raising premiums and reducing coverage for the past decade. Bit by bit, tiptoeing around — like we won’t notice. They think we are stupid.

Until two years ago, I had MassHealth (Medicaid Massachusetts-style). I really didn’t notice because MassHealth picked up whatever Medicare didn’t. When they took away MassHealth, holy moly … talk about getting whacked with a two-by-four. My head is still spinning.

Meanwhile, I have to get an answer to this question: “What steps do I need to take to change from my current medical plan, with which I am dissatisfied, to a better plan? To whom do I need to talk? What forms need filling out?”

I cannot be the only person unhappy with their plan who wants to switch. Open enrollment starts on October 15, so I’m right on target for taking care of business. I’m good at this kind of thing. Usually. Yet fifteen minutes into trying to get an answer to this question, I find myself staring at asterisks that do not lead to footnotes or other information. Statements telling me “This plan may not cover all medical expenses.” With no explanation of what that means. Doesn’t that sound a bit threatening to you? Sets my teeth on edge, lemme tell ya.

Medicare-Payment-Methods-1024x768

I’m smart. I’m not senile. I’m not on any mind-altering substances but my brain is turning to jelly and I’m ready to start banging my head on the table. Who wrote this stuff? The only way you can write documentation this bad is (a) be a really bad writer, and (b) not know what you’re talking about. Only with that precise combination of poor writing skills and misinformation can you produce documentation which informs no one while confusing and infuriating everyone. It doesn’t have to be this bad.

Hire me. I’ll rewrite it and when I’m done, pretty much everyone will be able to understand it. It’s not such a leap to ask that information be written clearly and organized logically.

Considering Medicare is aimed at the elderly and infirm and I — not all that elderly or infirm — cannot make heads or tails of it? Pity the folks who’ve had a stroke or just aren’t good at deciphering complicated documents.

Hello My Government! Yoohoo out there! Show some compassion. Hire some writers. Make informed decisions possible. This stuff is life or death, y’know?

JUST DIE ALREADY

That’s the message. The ACA doesn’t affect me directly since I’m already on Medicare — except that the out-of-pocket costs of Medicare have been going up each year. Higher deductibles and premiums, less coverage for the money and the doughnut hole in prescription coverage just keeps going and going and going. They are nibbling away at the coverage. Slowly and surely.

Coffin

Ever since I turned 65, it’s been a rapid downhill slide into worsening medical care. As long as was on MassHealth, the Massachusetts version of “Obama Care,” I was fine. I got medication for cheap or free and if I was sick, they took care of me. Thank God I had cancer while I was still covered under MassHealth!

The day I turned 65, they tossed me off of MassHealth. I had thought I was protected because of my disabled status. I received Disability payments rather than Social Security. Being officially disabled automatically entitled me to Mass Health. But, they had a simple solution to the conundrum.. They reclassified me and took me off disability, switching me to standard Social Security. It’s the same money, but without any protection. Wow! I was no longer disabled — a miracle indeed.

Did I get really get richer or healthier? Nope. The Great Minds who designed the system decree when you hit 65, you are healed of your disabilities and can can live on 1/3 the amount of money you needed just days before. Poverty is redefined to levels so low you couldn’t afford maintenance on a refrigerator crate.

Apparently The-Powers-That-Be believe the benevolent folks who hold our mortgage and other debts will knock 2/3 off our payments because they understand we are older and poorer.

In your dreams.

poor-old-man2

I knew it was going to happen but I’d been trying not to think about it. I knew because it happened to my husband when he turned 65. Bang, no more MassHealth. You’re on your own, buster. Garry has fewer major health issues than I do, a situation that is not guaranteed to last forever but so far, so good.

Me, on the other hand … well. I’m just about to hit the second anniversary of the two tumors which cost me both breasts  — the definition of a bi-lateral mastectomy. I had cancer twice — simultaneously. Those two-for-one sales are a killer.

Essentially, I’m getting no care at all, not even checkups. My insurer has too few oncologists. I hope for the best and don’t think on it much. Usually. Except at night, when I’m trying to fall asleep. Then, I wonder what’s really going on in my body. It is not the sort of thinking conducive to peaceful sleep.

I have evolved into a cardiac disaster area. I need a new mitral valve and other things. Turns out that my Medicare Advantage Plan (an oxymoron if ever I heard one) charges $50 per day co-pay for cardiac rehab. Since there is no way we can come up with that money, I can’t afford cardiac rehab. With all the deductibles, I’m not even sure I can afford the surgery itself … and I’m not sure they’ll perform it if I can’t do the rehab. I’m trying real hard to find something funny here and not doing such a great job.

HealthCareCosts

I’ve been considering using Magical Thinking as a medical alternative. Magical Thinking is holistic medicine for the hopelessly deluded. Rather than medication and surgery, I pretend I’m fine and kaboom — I’m fine. Problem eliminated. Magical thinking is cheap, efficient and much less stressful than actually dealing with the problem.

Okay, back to earth. I’m getting a message from the ether and the message, ladies and gentleman is (wait for it) … “Just die already.”

If I could afford $220 per month more, I could get a policy without deductibles. Ironically, that’s exactly what it costs me monthly to keep the house heated. On the budget plan. Could I skip heating and trade up for better medical insurance? But this is New England. It gets cold.

Or, for an additional $200 per month (which we don’t have) — plus the cost of Medicare — I could get a Medigap policy that would cover everything Medicare doesn’t cover. I’d need a prescription plan separately and no plan covers that big doughnut hole in the middle of prescription coverage. Kind of a moot point since I don’t have the money. Hell, we have more month than money now. More? From where? Our generous government entitlements?

If I don’t take care of the bad valves, I will die. If I delay too long, the chances of the surgery working well become increasingly poor. I can’t afford the surgery, not really … and the alternative is?

The message comes through loud and clear. I’ve outlived my usefulness. Just die already.

With the shut down of the government by those opposed to the ACA (let’s call them “Republicans” and be done with the niceties), with the GOP apparently believing “Just die already” is a reasonable message to send to me and lots of other people, I have to wonder how I wound up here. We worked hard our whole lives. We deserve better than this. I try not to be whiney about it, but it hurts to find oneself discarded, marginalized, back against the wall with the wolves closing in.

How did the United States become this ugly, mean-spirited country that would rather close down than offer medical care to its poor, its children, its senior citizens? How did we come to this? Who are we, anyhow?

I know. I get it. Just die already.