spring has…almost…sprung!

I am a spring time person. I love the cold nights and the cool days, the soft rains and the raging thunderstorms, the smell of loam after a storm, the plants sending out new shoots of life I will enjoy into autumn. It’s hard to be cynical and sour when everything comes together, new.

Those who read this blog from time to time know that last year at this time I did a series of walks with my handsome ginger tabby, Louie. Louie and I had small adventures each time I followed him on his walks. They always were concerned with, from Louie’s perspective, “What’s new in my territory?!” Then, August 1, 2011, Louie died suddenly of lymphoma. I didn’t know until the very night he died that he was ill. To this day, I grieve that fact because I had medical insurance on Louie. He could have had a couple more years if we’d caught it in time. Yeah.

But it is spring time, time to put away the sorrows and travails of the previous years, and enjoy the resurgence of life.

This year I have Louie’s successors, the kitten brothers. Full of life and the dickens, Andy and Dougy aren’t Louie, but they are a new adventure for me. Louie I rescued from the pound when the veterinarian estimated him to be five. The kitten brothers come to me when they were a bit older than two months, last September.

The kitten brothers. Cynical Andy, just now starting to accept things as they are and enjoying them a little. He was the sicker of the two kittens, and had to put up with more than a life time of baths to wash the diarrhea out of his fur. Ugh! Goofy Dougy, always ready for a good time. He and Andy play well together, and I think Andy benefits from Andy’s goofiness, his “come on, Andy, let’s chase each other all over the apartment and hunt each other down” way of keeping Andy occupied with what’s necessary for kittens: A good time, all the time, thank you!

Spring. The kittens are eight months old, as of March 1st. They make me laugh. They make me look forward to getting out of bed in the morning. They behave badly but are good, little kittens by and large. Explorers of their realm, little predators learning how to do it by hunting each other -and me sometimes – they are spring spirits, young, reckless, adventuresome, rough around the edges, but holding the full promise of a renewal of the cat presence I liked about Louie in my life. They enter spring as kitten teenagers. That should be interesting!

I’m in a spring mood today. The remains of last year remind me of the cycle of life that ends in death for all living things, but there always is that little sprout poking up through the dead leaves, impossibly small now, but just waiting to spring forth as rhubarb, the first chives for a light oniony touch in an omelette, or maybe mint for some tea.

Spring. My season!

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tribulations

A long time ago, I came across a saying, attributed to a Nantucket sea captain. It went something like this: Most people don’t care about your troubles, and the rest are damn glad of them.

Tribulations. That’s what’s kept me away from this blog since…erm…some time.

I am responsible for handling my elderly mother’s financial matters. It fell on me, as the only child living here, though my father did everything he could to make sure the passage from his hands to mine would be smooth and stress-free.

Yeah.

He organized everything as best he could with the limited eyesight he had left.

He paid for a funeral, though we never did locate the proof he’d given the funeral director a check for $5000. When he died, we had to pay everything, which, because my Dad was a meticulous and money-wise guy, was no burden on my mother.

Odd how we are told to retain records seven years in case the Internal Revenue wants to squeeze us one last time. That always was my understanding anyway.

Yet my Mom and Dad’s bank retains records five years, which proved to be a few months after the check my Dad thought he’d written to the funeral director was written. My brother and sisters, when they visited, helped me by going through the piles of paper and checks trying to find anything that proved the case. Nothing.

Then, in the stress of my Dad’s passing, I retired. Not connected, just coincidental.

In the jumble of papers regarding my retirement, I was receiving another jumble from various insurance companies requesting proof that my Dad was dead.

I put it bluntly. They had verification from Social Security that he was off the list because of death or I wouldn’t have heard from them. I learned this later when a couple annuities I didn’t know about sent out letters saying my mother had to respond to the request for proof of her relationship to Dad and of his death, in the form of yet another death certificate ($6.00 per copy) from the State of Nebraska, proving what we barely had time to absorb: Dad is dead.

Assholes.

Yeah, yeah! Insurance fraud is a big deal, and it increases the cost of insurance. Blah-blah-blah.

“Just give her the f’ing money!” I’d scream at the walls as I tried to pull together all the signatures and paperwork required for Mom to get what was HER money, not the damn insurance companies’.

Of course, the more circuitous the path, the more vulnerable the people involved in trying to retrieve necessary money from these bandits, the longer the insurance companies had the money to make money through their investments. How’s that for insurance fraud!

Yeah, yeah! It’s money made legally. It just has a taint of immorality about it, the stench of blackened corporate souls. Oh. Corporations don’t have souls. Right! So they can do anything the SEC or whatever agency regulates their business deems OK- until the whole rotten pile falls, and the world has fallen into an economic collapse, such as we saw in other parts of the economy in the past couple, three years. Don’t let me get started!

I finally (I think) managed to stumble my way through Mom’s insurance and care center payment issues (all the time dealing with a major one of my own), barely closing the door on the hungry wolves of the billing department of the care center where she lives.

She’s allowed to keep $4000 in assets under the rules of Medicaid. Her application wouldn’t go through until I could establish for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services that two annuities she receives money from are for her life, that nothing will be there to inherit.

By the time the insurance companies coughed up the information needed, weeks after the request, I had to pay Mom’s January health care bill of $6343.61 or the billing department was going to get rough, really rough with me. That also took her below $4000 in assets, something I was told not to let happen.

What was I to do? They won’t throw Mom out on the street, but I apparently am the “guarantor”, which I take to mean, “The person who will end up f’ed if the money isn’t turned over. NOW!”

(Gad, don’t you wonder if the people in the upper 10% have to grovel and suffer these indignities in their own way, or do they just pay someone to grovel and suffer indignities for them. I feel more like a socialist the older I get, the closer my association with people with financial and political power.)

Oh, yes, the billing department of the care center also wanted their money for February, though I’d told them the application for Medicaid was in process. They sent me a letter. Blah-blah-blah…. I call this sort of letter a “…then we hold your children hostage and kill your dog” letter.

Very sensitive. Yeah.

I called Mom’s caseworker at Health and Human Services about the application. Seems Mom’s bank changed the rules about how outside agencies such as HHS had to request financial information, so the request had to be resubmitted using the new form, I suppose. It’s always paper in this litigious country, the United States of America. If it isn’t a new form, it is an old form: those yummy pieces of paper with Founding Fathers and dead Presidents on them.

As Judge Judy says, if you want to find the bad guys, follow the money trail. That’s a paraphrase, but how true.

It so happened that Mom’s caseworker received several of the new applications back from the bank that morning. Mom’s was with them. She quickly resolved the matter, allowed for payment of Mom’s care center bill back to January, sent me the verification, answered a question or two for billing at the care center, and Mom was once again a welcome part of the residents, not some piece of refuse to be bartered over. Bastards.

Postscript. My Dad lived in the care center from the end of August 2004 until his death on Election Day, November 4, 2008. Every penny of his care came from funds and savings he and Mom put together in their working and early retirement years. Mom went into the care center in November of 2007. Until October of 2009, all her expenses were paid by her and Dad’s hard work and smart investing. Medicaid paid from October 2009 until October 2010 (I think…too tired at this point to verify.)

I detailed in another blog how an annuity I was unaware of and a clerical error at Blue Cross Blue Shield Nebraska (they continued to take a premium payment for a dead man’s health care insurance for two years…because they hadn’t attached a Social Security Number to his account that would have flagged it when they got a roster of the newly deceased removed from Social Security), and the nightmare that was to resolve. The money from these two accounts paid Mom’s care center bill for three, maybe four months after I told Health and Human Services about them so they could stop the help they gave.

All of those months at almost $5000 to a little over $5000 for Dad at the first to almost $6000 to slightly over $6000 add up. When both were in there together, they paid over $10,000 a month for both. They bought a wing to that care center! No kidding. They spent over $300,000 of their own resources to occupy a double room (Dad, though the last year his roommate was Mom) or a single (Mom, after Dad died and we decided she was going to go out in comfort one way or another).

The lady in charge of resident welfare says I should feel proud of Mom and Dad that they were able to provide for themselves this well in their last years.

Yeah. I’m trying to feel proud. I know they would have wanted to donate a nice sum of money to the church at the end of their lives. I know they wanted their children to get something from them at the end of their lives. Their children wanted them to spend their money on themselves, so the lack of an inheritance is no issue, but I still feel bad that the church won’t get anything. It was a big part of their lives.

Dad didn’t want to die in a care center or a hospital. He was content, though, once he reached a point where he was unable to do things for himself, to live there. Of course, Mom and I visited him daily and ate one or more meals a week with him. Sometimes, when we were up to it, we’d have Dad over to visit us since we were half a block away. (I had some serious health issues in 2007 that wiped out having Dad over at the apartment.)

Mom is content over there. She is waited on hand and foot. (At the charge per month, I encourage her to insist on it.) I visit her nearly every day, and we watch “Down Home with the Neelys” and “Judge Judy”, our routine.

Me? I’m trying to get past these tribulations. It is sick. I feel tainted by the issues of money and the people whose lives are centered on taking it from others. I use the Lenten season to work off grudges. More than any other Lenten season, I pray I get past the hate and resentment I have come to feel for the insurance and care center money people. It is a sickness that consumes me and leaves an empty shell.

WWJD? If I were Jesus, which I am not. What would Jesus want me to do, is a better question. It is my Lenten quest to find out.

imagine…

Imagine…

A world where no 18 year old is sent to die in war because the governments of the world finally learn how to work together for the betterment of all humanity.

Today is D-Day 2010, sixty-six years since any manner of boat or ship was pulled into the task of transporting the materiel and troops across the English Channel to the beaches of Normandy to begin the final phase of liberating occupied Europe. That history is well documented, the cost well known. D Day, June 6, 1944.

Remember, and honor, the memory of those who died to liberate that first beach head on French soil.

And imagine a world where no 18 year old is sent to die in war because the governments of the world finally learn how to work together for the betterment of all humanity.

Imagine….

volunteerism- how to pay up what you owe

My mother and father spent tens of hundreds of hours in volunteer activities that benefited the community where they lived most of their lives.

So engrained was their habit of volunteerism, their grave marker includes this saying: “Service to others is the price you pay for the space you occupy.” Carved in stone! Both were active volunteers in the church. But there is an extreme example of volunteerism: My mother taught water safety classes and adapted aquatics for 60 years as a Red Cross Volunteer. The only thing that involved her attention as long was her marriage, which lasted 71 years, until my father died November 4, 2008.  So grateful was the community that the City Council past a resolution  to name the bath house at the new swimming pool after her, an honor rarely given to living people who don’t first fork over a million or so dollars! On the plaque bolted to the front of the bath house: “Service to others is the price you pay for the space you occupy.” Cast in brass!

"Service to others is the price we pay for the space we occupy." Barely seen, the family motto of service to others is carved into the stone of my parent’s gravemarker as well. Place your cursor on the photo….

There’s a pattern there, and a challenge. I am my parents’ child. I live in the community where their good works stand as testament to their character. It is a small town, where I rarely have a day that someone doesn’t say, for example, “Oh, your mother taught me to swim!” Or “Your mother and father helped tile this fellowship hall.” Or, well, you get the idea!

Until they went into the care center half a block north of my apartment, I helped my parents as they became less and less able to take care of their needs. I planted gardens, a great joy, as you can guess if you read the blog before this one. I scooped snow. That had to be a great labor of love, I tell you, because I hated, hated, hated every scoop I pushed off the walk and drive! I mowed grass. I hated that until I bought a push mower. That allowed me to mow in the early, cool morning, bare footed. I raked fall leaves. Those I returned to the garden. I loved improving the soil that way. By the time we had to leave the house, the garden soil was so loose, you could turn it with a little effort and a garden fork. This service to others counts, I suppose, though doesn’t it fall more under “familial duty”? I think so.

I retired January 30, 2009. Now is the time for me to pay the price for the space I occupy!

rhubarb- a tasty fight

I live in a retirement community, I guess you’d call it. I live in the south end of a duplex apartment, where my co-resident’s  floor plan is the opposite, a mirror image of mine. That means the noisiest activities either my neighbor or I might be involved with take place the farthest distance possible from the other’s bedroom. Neat!

Good floor plans make good neighbors.

I, as a youth, used to write an Indonesian boy. At some point, he mailed two recordings of Gamelan music played specifically for accompaniment of Wayang shadow puppet shows. I mention that to alert you to my interest, now, in this eery, beguiling, lovely music. Were it not for the floor plan, I would hesitate to play any of my Gamelan orchestra CDs for fear of upsetting my neighbor, whose tastes are more country, I think. 

I’m listening to some seriously serious , classically classical Surakarta Court Gamelan music as I write.  It’s up a bit loud. Yes! ~ bliss! ~ a rhubarb averted by a good floor plan!

Another neighbor and I forage for the available rhubarb when one doesn’t think the other will see it happen. A rhubarb averted by stealth, but neither of us gets as much as we’d like.  That, of course, had a lot to do with why I bought three new starts of rhubarb to plant on “my” rented turf.

I told you yesterday about planting those rhubarb starts, as an act of faith, but not that the undeclared Rhubarb War would come to an end, peacefully, with all rhubarb patches properly claimed and undisputed!  

After I posted the account, I decided to go over to the care center to see my mother. I stepped outside the front door to find a smallish box CDs or DVDs could come in. Perplexed, I took it in, slit the tape and found… six more rhubarb starts! What?! What was I thinking when I placed two orders for rhubarb starts?

Another rhubarb averted! A Golden Rule moment! I decided to ask my neighbors if they’d like to have rhubarb starts, that I had the proper tools (and, now, attitude!) to do the planting  job if they did. And at least one does. I talked with her when I chanced to see her outside this morning. Two neighbors left to ask. The one I sneak around to avoid while rhubarb’s in season surely will accept my gift! The one who is co-resident of this duplex may accept some more.

Rhubarb’s about US$2 a bunch, about a pie’s worth, at the grocery store. If they have it. We’re all retired. Rhubarb’s in short supply in our part of the complex, making it a potential source of friction (oh, it is!). But I have this plan, this way to change the rhubarb season into one of peace and joy and harmony and bliss and sour stalks eaten fresh from the early, chill morning garden, with no guilt! Whew! 

Rhubarb. There you go: with faith, TLC, time, the neighborhood will have so much rhubarb everyone will be trying to find homes for the surplus. That’s the Golden Rule in action, and that’s the Prairie Way, too. Take care of your neighbors when they are in need, and know they will be there when your turn comes.

(p.s. For those who haven’t experienced a really awesome Gamelan performance, I’ve attached a link to a YouTube entry, below. I hope you enjoy this very different and magical style of music!)