Health Insurance 2015

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It is that time again, when we start to play the health insurance game.

I am the Poster Child for the person who needs insurance under the Affordable Care Act.  Without Obama Care, I would not have insurance, or have to pay at least $1000 a month for it.  My husband had always been a state employee (instructor at a community college), so had excellent health insurance.  When I was working for an organization where health insurance was available to employees, of course I participated.  But there was always the state health plan option.

When my husband’s employment ended, so did the State Health Plan for me.  At the meeting with the Human Recourses Department at the community college soon after my husband’s death, I was offered one month of COBRA (for my daughter and myself) for $1000. This was the end of March, 2014, and near the end of the initial enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Luckily, I had been meeting with a group of professional women during the last year, one of whom was working with ACA enrollment.  I immediately called her, and within a few days had the insurance that my daughter and I needed, at a very reasonable cost, because I had no income at that time – and really didn’t know what it was going to be in the future.  I had ended employment as Interim Manager of a local Thrift Shop a week prior to my husband’s death. It was a small nonprofit  organization, so, of course, it did not offer insurance to its employees.

So, now, here I am again in December, 2014. Time for a new enrollment.  I still am not employed, but work through the issues resulting from my husband’s death (selling a house, buying a house, moving, writing the blog, developing a widow’s financial management curriculum).  In the interim, I have qualified to receive my husband’s State Retirement, in addition to Social Security.  Between the two, I am able to live comfortably, pay college tuition for my daughter, and wait for the “big” house to sell (sooner rather than later would be nice, however!) .

Affordable Care Act (ACA) Insurance is my life preserver. My agent contacted me about a week ago and reminded me that it was time to start looking at options for next year.  With my current income, my ACA premium will be about $500 a month for me and my daughter. Thank goodness it is still available.

But – now I live in a new town, (very small), so I talked to my sister who lives here about physician options.  There is one doctor who attends the same church that I am, and has a great reputation.  My Agent suggested that one of my selection criteria should be “which provider pays your doctor’s invoices most promptly”.  So…I went to the office (3 employees, including the Doc) and asked the question:  “Which insurance company pays your bills most promptly?”  After her puzzled expression, I explained that her answer would be a major criteria in selecting my insurer under the ACA.

The lovely lady just laughed, and told me that Blue Cross Blue Shield had been doing a good job of reimbursing their costs.

So – Blue Cross, Blue Shield it is.

Seven Weeks After the Move

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Now it is about seven weeks since I moved my home from Big City to Small Town – from a 2800 sq. ft. house with full attic storage to a 1500 sq. ft. town home  (with a 2-car garage). We lived in the house for over twenty years, and rarely threw anything away. I take full responsibility for that issue, and would do it differently had I to do it again (and am determined to pare down going forward).

But I also moved quickly because a large town home in a group I had been eyeing for several years (for a mountain get-away) miraculously became available. I knew that it would not remain on the market long, so quickly made an offer, which was accepted.

Another positive synchronicity was that the market value of the “old” house was up 30% over the prior year.  I had known for some time that we needed to down-size, but market-values had been soft, so I delayed selling – the investment in the house represented a good portion of our retirement “nest-egg.”  Then, this Spring, the value went up by almost 40% from the prior year. Obviously, the time was right to sell.

BUT…then there was no time for the slow winnowing through a family’s 30 years of life together.  My sister, when she decided to move to Small Town, had the luxury of taking three years for the clearing process I had to complete in three months.

Of course, the result was that a lot of things were moved that should not have been.  Now there are boxes, and boxes, and boxes…Actually, from a high of about 350, I am down to 75 or so…fifteen of them are Christmas paraphernalia of various types – Christmas China, ornaments, lights, clothes, wreathes – you get the idea.  As I write this, it is December 3.  Tonight I have no desire to winnow through Christmas boxes.  It’s just not going to happen.

The closets are hard…the wedding gown that my sister and I both wore (but is just not my daughter’s style), dresses from recitals, family weddings, t-shirts from vacations and graduation gowns… the ones that are still beautiful, but just out of style, or too small. There are still many of those in my closet that really must be purged – sometime soon.

But no easier are items from the kitchen – platters, bowls, glasses (how many sizes of wine glass do you need, and how many of each??) crock pot, punch bowl, salad bowl, soup tureen- all those lovely large pieces that I intellectually know I will not use again (or can borrow from one of my sisters who live here Small Town).  Truly difficult is acknowledging that all those family moments will happen much less frequently, and last a shorter time…intellectually I know those things, but it does not make the paring down process any easier.

The symbol of it all is the “good china”  that we all registered as young brides-to-be, and collected as friends and family built our “trousseau.”  It filled our china cabinets for years, looking beautiful, and (at least in my case), was used, at most, five times over 42 years of marriage. Now, it is (again) taking up space in a china cabinet (silly me) at least for now. I think I will know that I have gotten over this mountainous bump in my road when I give up the “good china”.

One of my new missions (should I be so blessed), is to teach my grandchildren how to keep those things that they love, and let the rest go. I can count the items I have from my mother on one hand, each highly valued. I will be writing about the process I develop for retention (and release) of all the “excesses” over the next year as I teach myself to “winnow”.  I hope you will all join me and share stories and ideas and resources as I explore this path.

The New Life

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That sounds really dramatic – a new life.

But EVERYTHING is different in the new town, the new house, new car, new Vet, new theater, new friends.
I still stay connected to a few of my old friends, but I was never a social butterfly, and as I look at possibilities for the upcoming years, there seems to be nothing but questions about my immersion into a new community.
Two nonprofit boards have approached me to join, and I have accepted. I just cannot come into a community and not expect to contribute to the organizations that make it work. The two that I have agreed to join are the homeowners association for my little group of town homes, and a regional theater company. I have not decided whether to work for compensation yet. My memory has never been great, but all the challenges of the year have left my cognitive abilities at a woefully inadequate level. I would love to teach piano and college level courses again, but both require more development. The last time I taught a full studio of 30 students it took about three years to build.
A fellow widow that has been providing friendly support since my husband died has been proofing my blog entries, sharing her own experiences, and talking about a continuing education curriculum for widows which will probably be the next challenge to complete. There is a local community college here, and the curriculum continues to take shape. Hopefully, after the holidays, I can find an appropriate group and venue for offering the curriculum. Last week a group of us chatted over dinner, especially about the challenges of widowhood: the feeling of isolation, the lack of a road map for how to deal with the reinventing of a life. They encouraged me, again, to work on the “class”.
But it is hard. Reading (of course) could infinitely defer/delay/derail the process. It is so tempting to just pick up a book and leave your life for a few hours. But then when I close the cover, I am back exactly where I was before.
I need to move forward.

As, a CPA, I am compelled to do it in an ordered, substantive manner. So – there needs to be some type of method of measuring progress. There must be a measurement tool, and a definition of items to measure, with a weighted evaluation scale. Ah, now I think I have my next project. Look out for the Widows Measurement Tool for Social Reintegration (maybe I can find a little more euphemistically acceptable name). That will do for a working title (WMTSR).

Let me know if you have a more creative title or experiences you would like to share!

Small Towns and Cable Challenges

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I have now been living in Small Town, USA for two weeks.

One of the first things I did on arrival (two weeks ago) was call the local cable company and ask them to install cable in my townhome. I had consulted several people about the various available options. There was already a dish hanging off the back balcony, but I really wasn’t interested in that choice.  There was also a manly movie option that offered no local programming, and one group offering cable but no phone and no internet. I really need all three, and really don’t want to work with three different vendors for those services.

I was spoiled, as are most people living in large metropolitan areas, by the availability of one major vendor who provided phone, internet and cable.  With VERY rare interruption, we enjoyed the world at our fingertips, including internet that was always there, cable channels that offered sports from around the world 24/7, a choice of 20 movies (most of the time) and LOTS of network options. My favorite relaxers were crime dramas – “Castle,” “Bones,” “Criminal Minds,” “Cold Case.” I was also a fan of the old movies.  Not long before I moved, one evening I ran across the old John Wayne film The High and the Mighty – a great tale of a plane full of passengers with engine trouble on the long flight between Hawaii and California. Those shows were my usual “downers” – a great old movie, a kitty or two for company, and a mug of warm tea. I know I could have rented the movie, ordered it from Net Flix, or found it several other ways, but there was always the joy of finding something that you would never have ordered right there on your screen, the perfect relaxer after a stressful day.

I also spent some time each day developing and coordinating the up and coming world of widow friends, through meetings, classes, web posts, and working on a curriculum for that group. Much of the new ideas came from surfing the net, finding little gems, sharing them with others, refining the course.

Now, all of that is pretty much dead in the water.  I called the cable company after a week and was told that they would get to me as soon as possible.  I called after two weeks, and was told that there was a long line of installations, and they would get to me before Christmas (it is now early November).

My sister lives in the same town (15 minutes away), but they already offer much support (unloading boxes, clearing the garage, introducing me at church) that I am working on alternative internet sources. There are several places in town, including the local coffee shop (an upstairs room with tables and great coffee), and the Big Grocery Store with a Starbucks (where I am now).

And so it goes for now (until Christmas??)

You will all hear the celebratory whoop when the cable man comes to my door, and the cats and I can surf the cable options for those lovely old movies and travel shows.

Halloween is alive and well

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In the large city where I lived for the last 30 years, Halloween had all but died.  When my children were small there was still a neighborhood pool, and we all knew each other (adults and children) from the summer swim meets.  There was a hay ride at Halloween, and caroling at Christmas.  But when the pool had to close, the mortar of the community was lost, and my children were no longer small.  By the time I left my very polite large city home, I knew only a few families. On Halloween, I would never get more than ten trick-or-treaters.

Tonight was Halloween in my new, small community.  I had been warned by the neighbors on our cul-de-sac of town homes that there would be A LOT of trick or treaters, and had bought a big 230-piece bag of goodies.  The revelers started coming about five o’clock despite chill temperatures and a slow drizzle (snow is forecast later tonight). By 6:30 my 230 piece bag was all but gone, so I called my sister who lives across town and asked if she had any candy remaining. She had no goulish guests, so she said she would bring me her bag (about 70 pieces).

But just getting into the cul-de-sac proved a challenge. By the time she arrived, I had handed out protein bars, individual bags of Trader Joe’s Omega Tek Mix, and (to a group of three high school guys), cheese sticks, telling them that they were lucking into to the healthy snack tonight. My sister left me a (laughing) message saying that she could not get up the hill to my house for all the revelers.  Eventually she arrived with the extra pieces.

The “official” end to the event must have been 7 o’clock, because the number of visitors dropped exponentially after that point.  I continued to give out the remaining treats, then ran out of treats at 7:30, and turned off my light. What a delightful experience it was!! There was every type of costume, from the very professional princesses, to wonderful improvisational “mud man”, and everything in between.  It was a great, polite crowd of all ages.

I love my new home.  I can’t wait to see what happens on Halloween when the weather cooperates! We’re already planning a party for all our Burnsville family members next year, with appropriate adult beverages, to enjoy the fun.

 

Moving Day

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Moving Day

Lots of people helped me get ready for the Big Move…my family (sister, brother, nieces, nephews,  sister-in-law, cousins…you get the idea – this was a major family project), friends, acquaintances, contractors…all helped prepare for The Move.

About a week prior to the vans’s arrival, we decided that we really needed help with packing.  I had spent a couple of days in our attic, and unloaded most of the things in the closets, and the bookcases (I think that even after purging I had over 700 books), but I had not even started on the kitchen. My kitchen had a lovely bookcase with too many cookbooks, plus a desk area with cabinets above, and two large file cabinets, plus china cabinet and (yes, really) 29 cabinets doors, two pantries, 38 cabinet doors and 16 drawers.  It was not going to be pretty. So I just asked the moving company to pack the kitchen and the balance of the attic. It took the team of four guys most of a day (Tuesday).

Wednesday was the final “prep” day. Thursday was Moving Day.  Thursday dawned a beautiful clear day with moderate temperatures. The movers were at the house about 5 hours putting boxes on the truck. We already had two storage spaces from the “staging” clean-out and other pre-move boxing, so they proceeded to those areas.  It was not pretty.  We ended with two 16-foot trucks (they were afraid they would need three, but stayed within two thanks to one of the most efficient truck loaders I have ever seen).

The drive to my new home was about five hours.  I thought I would meet them there about noon, but somehow did not hear the communication that they would leave at 5 am. Luckily, my sister was ready in the mountains with a key and they started putting furniture and boxes in the town home two hours prior to my arrival about noon.  The final clean out of the house with my Move Manager had taken about two hours . The cats and I left on our new adventure. They did amazingly well on the trip.

Boxes, boxes everywhere.  I did not make a final count, but estimate about 350 boxes. Oh, my.  The trick was to get all the furniture in, get the car in the garage, and then put unopened the boxes in the middle of the rooms.  There was barely room to walk.

And of course, my idea of where things were going to go did not fit the space sometimes, so things had to be relocated. I have to say, the four young men that made the final outloading were amazing and exceptional young men. They were always respectful and polite even the second (and on one occasion third) location for items. They did not leave until I agreed that all was where it should be.

To say that the house was overwhelming at that point would be the understatement of the year. At this writing, it is ten days later.  I still have about fifty boxes to unload (in addition to the garage storage shelves). It is beginning to feel like home – and the vision for the house is evolving.

But there is still a very long way to go.

The Cats

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Honestly, the cats are the hardest. There are two – a lovely 13-year-old tabby named Mew (yes, from Pokemon) and one-year-old, coal black, Arya (always underfoot just like her namesake in Game of Thrones).  The cats have kept me sane for the last six months: listening to my frustrated tirades, and sitting in my lap at the end of the long days of packing and sorting and packing and pitching and packing and donating. They also (usually) spend part or some of each night on my bed, but not all, and not always.

But now that the house is on the market to be sold, of course, there can be no sign of the cats when someone comes to view the house.  Fine, I thought.  I will just find a good place to board them for a while. Well, at least in my town, that might be an option for a dog, but there is not an acceptable boarding option for cats.  The ONLY option here that I have discovered (and I have actually tried four so far after extended web searches) is housing in four cubic foot cages.  Sometimes, if there are vacant adjoining cages, I can rent two of those with a door in between. But the 13-pound Mew takes up the whole cage from front to back.  And of the four places where I have boarded them so far, only one of them offers any out-of-cage option at all. At the end of the first day I boarded them the smaller Mew (9 pounds) hissed at me when I reached in to take her home. Now she is more stoic, but still not happy.

Needless to say, they now do NOT like to be put in their carriers.  Mew, sweet girl that she is, has coped with the situation by peeing in the car EVERY time I take her home.  Arya now just objects, mewing loudly most of the trip.

Most depressing so far was yesterday.  I found a website online that was a very high end dog destination.  For the Canines they offer suites, multiple exercise options during the day, swimming pools, playing, grooming…so I visited the site with great optimism and found….four-foot cubes for the cats, with an option to have 15 minutes in the room with a cat tree once a day for their feline guests – for an additional fee, of course.

So my only viable option is keeping the cats at home (they sleep most of the day), and when the call comes that someone wants to view the house, hide all the signs of cats (tree, toys, litter boxes) cage up my beauties in their carriers and go…somewhere.  I haven’t figured that out yet. As long as the weather is nice, going to the park will be fine.

Perhaps another option will present itself.

So it goes.

The Painters

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The painters were a critical part of the preparation for the sale of my house.  The exterior had relatively new siding, but the windows has not been painted in our 20-year residence. The interior was equally in need of refreshing. All rooms needed a coat of the light gray color selected by the Stager, as did all the closets.

The contractor (recommended by the real estate agent) provided the following quote <his text and grammar is reproduced> :

Exterior

Powerwashing paint all sinding and trim windows frames doors.

Interior 

Londry remove wall paper and paint cabinets White, Powder room paint walls and cieling family room paint only cieling office cieling walls and closet foyer cieling walls hallway walls and cieling, Bathroom walls and cieling hallway walls cieling master Bedroom walls cieling , Bedrom walls cieling closet, bed room remove wall paper paint cieling closet , Liven room paint cieling walls price labor material paint for all $3425

My move manager read the above, and summarized the necessary services:

– Power washing all of exterior

– Caulking as required outside

– Necessary repairs inside and out to the surfaces to be painted

– Includes all paint costs

– Priming to all repaired surfaces prior to painting inside and outside

– Interior ceilings

– Two coats of paint inside and outside

– Wall paper removal

Unfortunately, I looked at the two lists and thought that the painter’s looked complete.  A more methodical person would have looked at EACH of the spaces needing paint, and made sure that they were all covered.

The spaces that were omitted by the painter are in ALL CAPS in the following comprehensive list:

Exterior-

Power washing all vinyl siding, painting all non-vinyl siding (I had some in the garage),

Paint all doors and windows.

Interior –

Laundry, remove wall paper and paint walls and cabinets white (interior and exterior).

Powder room paint walls and ceilings AND CLOSETS

Family room, paint only ceiling (this was a paneled room)

Office paint ceiling and closet

Upper Foyer ceiling, walls AND CLOSET)/ Hallway ceiling, walls

Upper Hall Bathroom walls and ceiling

Bedroom (master) walls & ceiling AND CLOSETS(2), Bedroom 2, walls, ceiling, closet

MASTER BATH, WALLS,CEILING & CLOSET

Bedroom 3, remove wall paper, paint ceiling and closet.

Living room paint ceiling, walls

Other Spaces ADDED to original list :

Lower Foyer and Hall (paneled area that was dark) –

 -It was amazing how painting the stairwell white and adding a light carpet brightened the dark area

The Kitchen (mostly cabinets – little painted wall area).

-BUT – we should have had him paint the ceiling, which we did not think about until later.

Original Price $3425 (amazingly low, I thought for a 2800 sq. ft. home.)

He added painting the paneling in the lower hall, the four closets, and the master bath for an additional $200. I was very lucky.

The lesson learned was this: when dealing with a contractor doing a complex job with several possible options, be really diligent in defining the exact terms.  I have had success dealing with the contractors recommended on our Agent’s website.  I can be confident that those contractors are insured and bonded, and have a reputation for doing excellent work.

Preparation for Staging

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Manageable would probably not be a word that would occur to me now in describing where I am with the move process.  About three weeks ago my Move Manager and I sat down and picked a target date to have the house ready to go on the market.  Three weeks ago, we chose Thursday of this week. We’ll see.

Things have definitely progressed.  Last Saturday the “mini-move” removed all the non-essential pieces of furniture and about sixty boxes of stuff to a 10 x 10 storage room. I understand that when the door was finally closed not another item could have possibly fit.  The local team of four young men that came that day did an exceptional job of moving things out – including a little last minute packing that cleared the way for the carpet men coming on Monday.

Today was supposed to be carpet day.  It started with a delay in the team’s coming because we did not have all the required rooms totally cleared.  There was some misunderstanding about the interpretation for “totally cleared” (or perhaps it changed). So the team that was supposed to start at 8 came about 12.  The manager who had come and quoted the job had decided that we could use the current carpet as a pad for the new.  When the carpet-laying team came today they disagreed. The current carpet was not totally fixed to the floor.  It had some wrinkles in it, which the laying manager said would negatively affect the new carpet.  Sounded logical to me. So…then we needed another pad, a new quote, and a new day.  No carpet today.

The painter started with a power-wash that took most of the day, but was totally amazing when he had finished. No more dusty garage!  It is squeaky clean. Tomorrow, painting inside and out. Tonight I had to take everything that was remaining off the walls, including the wonderful poster collection in my adult son’s boyhood room. He had taken photos of them last weekend, so all are duely recorded, but it was still sad to see them go. Batman, Spiderman, favorite college teams, and inspirational sayings (You Already Are What You Want To Be When You Grow Up). Maybe the carpet guys will be back tomorrow. I have lost track, actually.

The sad thing that happened today was that I took my two lovely cats to a “kennel” for the day.  It has a good reputation, and the “girls” could be together but also had an opportunity for their own space. When I arrived (about 3:30 pm) my little Arya (a year old and solid black) was huddled in the back of her space, and hissed at the attendant, who asked me to come coax her out.  They will have to go back tomorrow, but it is troubling.  Tonight she seems fine.  We shall see.

Onward with painters & carpenters.

Moving Forward – LOAN APPROVED

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The locomotive that is my move keeps picking up steam. The first “mini-move” is Saturday.  An excellent local moving company is going to take about sixty boxes and all the “extra” furniture to a near-by storage unit (small tables, bookcases, all the art).  The goal is to create a minimal “canvas” in my house, giving the viewers the opportunity to paint their own new family portrait in its rooms.

Amazingly, after the debacle of the earlier “nonloan,” I received notification yesterday from a local bank (in the area of my new townhome) that my loan has been approved. We have a new closing date in two weeks. I hope my baby grand piano (circa 1924 that is being reconditioned) will be ready two weeks after that (dictating my “primary moving day”). The approval came TWO WEEKS after I walked into that bank manager’s office with the same document package that the Regional Bank had not been able to approve after five weeks.

There is daily activity here. Yesterday the salesman provided a carpeting quote to replace the very tired carpet in the family room. The power-wash and interior painting will happen next week, along with a regrout for our older showers and some help for the yard. The Inspector will be here tomorrow.

Keeping all the above in mind, the best decision I made was hiring the Move Manager. He has taken over the scheduling and supervision of all the subcontractors, leaving me (with invaluable help from family members) to do all the packing, donation runs to the local thrift shop, blogging, and work on the curriculum development for the Widows Way course. It is still extremely difficult, on many levels, but at least now it is manageable.