Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas in Chicago

We have spent a number of Christmases with my family, but with that niece and nephew getting older and outgrowing the jolly obese guy in a red suit, we are switching sides. Especially because there's this guy (nephew on J's side) and he has lots of years to believe in S. Claus.

Lil E definitely is into opening gifts, or more specifically, gift wrap. Toys come second to gift wrap.

He is not so into wearing reindeer ears. But it's cool on other people. 

It wasn't all about the kid though … the adults got some Christmas love as well with a Secret Santa exchange. Not surprisingly, J got his Secret Santa concert tix and his Secret Santa got him concert tix. 

We also did FaceTime with loved ones. I love FTing J's grandma because she thinks you have to hold the phone way up to your face … give her a break, she's just about 90!

It was so cold in Chicago we had to warm ourselves by the fire. Until it got warm and some of us had to take off all our clothes.

And, of course J and I had to take the opportunity to teach the Bean Game to more unsuspecting victims (up to 15 people in one year!!). We are available for instruction at any time … just sayin. 

Hope you and yours had a merry one. Who's ready to plunge into 2014?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fare the Well, New Jersey

Well, we survived our almost 2 months in NJ.

I say "survived" because J should really be granted sainthood for holing up with his in-laws in a box no more than 660 square feet. No one should have to do that in their life. I had to laugh at last night's Saturday Night Live skit about being "home for the holidays" and bringing boys into your old bedroom. Definitely weird to be living under my parents' roof again. 

I also say "survived" because tristate area drivers are way too aggressive. Before my fellow Jersey folks start throwing rotten tomatoes at the screen, hear me out. J & I have driven tens of thousands of miles all over these united states. We have a right to judge drivers and drivers in this neck of the woods need to take it down a notch. 

In any case, we wrapped up our busy social calendar with more visits!! 

We celebrated Christmas a little early with my sister's family during a very snowy weekend. So we did what you should do during snowstorms … make fires, go sledding (they have an EPIC hill), play games, make Gingerbread houses, play games (Bean game!!) … 

One last visit with our other goddaughter in NJ

My poor Nana ended up in the hospital with a fractured pelvis from a fall and is recovering VERY slowly. But happy for a bonus visit with her. 

We revisited J's old neighborhood, doing a drive-by of the house he grew up in and checking in with his old neighbors. Meanwhile, we didn't have to do a drive-by of my old neighborhood or house since my parents still live in the same house where I grew up! 

Joining a gym was one of the best decisions I made. Added bonus: spending LOTS of QT and healthy time with one of my closest and oldest (not just by age) friend.

This guy (and his wife) gave us a short tutorial on social media, an area where we are in desperate need of help over beers. Mr. Clean/Jason not only has the communications knowledge, but a PhD in beer drinking and his very own plaque on the wall to prove it! 

Like I said, busy social calendar … one day, J ate out 3 times in one day!!!

A trip to NJ wouldn't be complete without a few FGH concerts. Three nights of FGH, to be exact. You might ask why someone needs to see the same band three times in a row. I don't have an answer for you. And thankfully, I paid J's friends to go with him so I wouldn't have to go. 

After 2 months, McKinley finally snuggled up with us a bit. Slept with us for 3 hours one night this week. Big parental win. Except that we are leaving him once again. Fail. 

Off to Chicago for Christmas, then Colorado for the New Year! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Health "insurance"

I try to steer clear of opening any can of worms on this blog by talking religion, politics, UFO sightings or whether there is a Santa Claus. But, I have one downfall. I'm looking at you, health care. 

My love/hate relationship with this subject could be because I make a good portion of my living writing about health care, but it's also because J & I have chosen a lifestyle (i.e., leaving the comforts of full-time jobs to hike the AT or taking contract work) in which we must purchase individual health care and so we live what the media headlines talk about. 

I've followed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for my medical writing gigs for years, ever since it was just a twinkle in Obama's eye. It was actually kind of fun to watch it develop (that's the nerd side of me talking). I was one of those people who half-supported it because I thought something—anything—needed to happen with the U.S. health care system. Still, I knew it was a flawed plan. I am still in favor of certain aspects, like the free preventive care and fact that J was no longer going to be flat-out denied for individual insurance on the basis of his non-existent, but pre-existing, condition. Access to health care is a good thing. Especially since I have joined the ranks of the "pre-existing" condition stigma. 

Over the years, we've dodged some bullets. While we hiked the trail, J took advantage of the costly COBRA since he was denied individual insurance on the basis of his pre-existing condition and I found myself a cushy plan.

A year or so later, we found ourselves in need of individual plans again. J was not denied this time around, but there were blood tests and a long waiting period before we were enrolled in a very basic plan to suit us for the time being. 

That brings us to today when the playing field has changed again. 2014 is the big year when many of the elements of the ACA become a reality. 

As a result, my head is spinning these days, not with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, but with analyses of super high monthly premiums, even higher annual deductibles and small lists of out-of-network providers. 

The thing is, there's this debate over "if you like your plan, you can keep it." Millions were getting unexpected cancellation letters and forced to find a new plan through the marketplace. Then Obama said he would make exceptions and grandfather people in on their current plans. I knew our plan did not qualify as one of the ACA-approved plans, but we never got a cancellation letter. I've called our insurance company more times than I want to admit to make sure our plan is not going away (until the end of 2014). 

Plus, I want to stay with my insurance for now, since I already racked up some hefty bills with my PE and may even meet my deductible this plan year! 

With that being said, we are not out of the woods. By keeping a non-approved ACA plan, we are subject to a tax penalty and won't receive the tax subsidy. You might ask why we took that path? 

Well, we looked into the "approved" plans being offered by our current insurer and the plans in the healthcare marketplace. Guess what? Double the cost of our current premium and double to triple the deductible we currently have. That's some sticker shock. That's not the only troubling element. The plans are just as complicated, if not worse, than our current plan. We, of course, make it even more complicated by wanting coverage nationwide (very few multi-state plans out there and WICKED expensive). Oh, and the tax subsidy everyone is talking about? Eh, not so awesome. 

In order to offer a little praise, know that the helpline is actually helpful. Granted you have to wait 15 minutes before talking to a representative. In a culture where people are too busy to finish the word delicious, but sleep in lines to buy the latest version of an iPad, patience is a grey area. I feel for these customer service reps. These reps may possibly have the worst jobs ever. They constantly put me on hold to either deal with their system freezing up (the technical glitches everyone is talking about do exist) or track down a supervisor to answer one of my questions. And even then, they are not usually complete answers. On a side note, calling customer service lines is a fun way to meet new people. My dad does it all the time (including the wee hours of the morning). He and the guy from Apple iCare just met up for lunch the other day in fact. 

And that, my friends, is the health insurance quandary, the place where heart attacks grow on trees. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

More Jersey Deliciousness

Day 41 in New Jersey, but who's counting? J was not counting and when I told him 41 days, he vomited in his mouth a little.

Today, Jersey got some beautiful snow. Because J had to get lotto tix for my dad (and himself of course) for tonight's Mega Millions, we decided to take a walk and embrace the awesomeness!

We've been doing much of the same here since the last time I checked in. In between going to concerts, J wrapped up his big project cleaning out his grandma's second home (what a transformation as seen in the pictures below), while I continue to do my medical writing (sorry, no pictures; those would be far too exciting).

Just 2 weeks left here in the Garden State, so we are still soaking up the endless visit opportunities with friends and family.

I think I've mentioned this before, but J keeps in touch with a gazillion friends from high school. I can count on one hand how many people from high school I keep in touch, even with the help of Facebook. In any case, it is so sweet to witness these high school-turned-adult bonds (well, they attempt to be adults and sometimes that works). And because we have very prolific friends, we get to witness their young families playing and growing together.

With that being said, I would like to throw out the idea that my high school connections rock more because these connections are why J gets to go to an occasional Jets game (they won this weekend all because of J of course!). 

On a side note, at the baptism of one friend's son, their daughter threw up. Poor thing, but at least her brother didn't even flinch. He knew no one could take away the glory of his day with a face like that.

BTW, in case your life can't be complete without knowing what we did for Thanksgiving, we went up to my sister's where we:
played WII Just Dance and board games during which J lost TWICE
tested our blood sugar
made fruit cake
tested our blood pressure with a $2 machine bought at a yard sale
ate turkey
***only one of those things is untrue

J & I also went on our most expensive date EVER. We went to see Guster at the Brooklyn Bowl (this concert was by MY request surprisingly, even though J has already seen them 10+ times).
$80 for 2 tix
$70 in train fare getting to the city (driving may have been a little cheaper with bridge tolls, etc, but I also may have suffered another pulmonary embolism from the stress of driving to NYC)
$5 for parking at the train station
$60 for food
YIKES, we may have to wait another year before going on another date

In other news, Mr. McKinley still hates us. Something about us abandoning him in 2011 to my parents and never coming back to take him as initially intended.

Oh, and our bright yellow Subaru Baja made the list of the 12 most embarrassing cars on the road in Forbes. In full disclosure, we love Big Bird and know you are all jealous.