Friday, August 21, 2015

The End of Summer and Another Milestone

On the Friday prior to school starting I reflect on this summer that just flew by so fast and how we never really made it to the beach and to the sounds of the glorious ocean rolling up on to the sand. I missed the beach this summer. We only went maybe once or twice. I can’t even remember how many times, but it was not much.

It started with torrential rain all around Memorial Day in May. Then Miranda was attending the Kinkaid EMSI program and before I knew it half the summer was up. We attended a family reunion in July in the Rio Grande Valley and that was our summer vacation- a long weekend in South Texas.

As we prepared for the kids to go to their grandparents’ house in San Antonio in August I realized the summer was already over. I was tasked with buying uniforms and school supplies to prepare.

So here we are, practically on the eve of the first day of school. We are crossing over into new territory this year. Seth will be starting middle school and Miranda high school. I feel like the mother (Patricia Arquette) in the movie “Boyhood” when she says, “You know what I’m realizing? My life is just going to go. Like that. This series of milestones.”

I don’t want to say, “I just thought there would be more.”

I want to be able to say, “There was so much in life and I got all that I could out of it.”

Here we are at the end of the summer and I wanted to go to the beach this weekend. We had the rain at the beginning then weeks and weeks of extreme heat with no rain. So wouldn’t you know that it’s been raining this week? 

It’s supposed to be overcast with scattered showers all weekend but I want to see if we can squeeze in one last beach visit on Sunday morning. I want to sit on the beach with a drink and the waves at my feet before heading back to the crazy schedule of the school year.

Monday, August 03, 2015

The Cost of Healthcare

About a month ago I went in to have my routine annual mammogram. A few days later I opened my results and was surprised to read that they wanted me to go back in for a follow up. I quickly called my OBGYN’s office to find out what they knew. The nurse, who has known me for years, called me back. She told me that I had a small nodule in my left breast, more center and under the nipple. I was shocked, but instead of thinking the worst or obsessing and reading everything I could find on the internet, I just waited until the following week for my follow-up appointment. Believe me, this was really hard to do, but I did it.

My insurance covers the first mammogram as prevention, probably because I’m over 40. However, the insurance wasn’t as generous for a second mammogram or an ultrasound.

Honestly, when I made the second appointment money was the furthest thing from my mind. All I was thinking about was getting that second check and finding out if I had a malignant “nodule.”

I went in and the lady checking me in let me know that I was responsible for my co-pay of $500+. I told her that I didn’t come prepared to pay that amount. She called someone and handed me the phone. The woman on the other end asked me how much I could pay.

"I can pay a hundred, but that’s all,” I replied.

“Can you pay two hundred?” she asked.


She told me that they would make an exception this time but to be aware that I would owe the balance. I told her I understood.

I paid my $100 and went on with the mammogram and the ultrasound. The great news is that it was a benign lump and that I didn’t need a biopsy. I just need to follow up in six months.

I was relieved. Thank goodness it wasn’t cancer. Thank goodness I didn’t need more procedures. I don’t think I would have been able to afford it if I had.

Today I received an additional bill for $141 from the radiologist. Lovely. Add that to the $400+ balance I still owe.

Yes, I have insurance, provided my employer, but I still have a deductible and co-pays. Plus, I opted for the less expensive insurance because in general we don’t get sick often. I only needed the insurance for check-up, vaccines and of course, God forbid, an emergency or unexpected illness. Surprise!

I have been very fortunate to have insurance my entire adult life. I remember a time when I paid the co-pay of a few hundred dollars to go in to the hospital to  have my first baby fourteen years ago. After she was born I received a refund in the mail because my insurance had covered all the expenses.

In just fourteen years healthcare has become so expensive that it’s made it virtually impossible for that same scenario. Both healthcare and pharmaceuticals have skyrocketed and the people paying the price for the increase are us, the consumers.  

So what if I had needed additional care and I didn’t have the money to cover it? I know I would have had the care anyway, but I can’t help but wonder how I would have paid for it. Forget the fear of death, people can't afford to get cancer. 

Another incident happened recently that was also a reminder of these rising costs. I’m allergic to shellfish. I have a pretty life-threatening reaction if I come in contact to shellfish. I consider that a matter of life or death. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that I’m even more sensitive and I know it’s important that I carry an epi-pen in case of an emergency.

I noticed that my epi-pen had expired so I made an appointment with my allergist, thinking that my co-pay would be the same as the co-pay for my OBGYN or any other specialists. Wrong. The co-pay was $120 for my allergist. $120 to see a doctor who has to prescribe me a medication that keeps me alive in case of an attack.

I couldn’t wait to see how much the epi-pen was going to cost. When I called the pharmacy to check on my co-pay before going in to pick it up the pharmacist told me it would cost me $500. I almost fell out of my chair. It turned out that she didn’t have my insurance information entered correctly so my cost wasn’t really $500, but that is the cost for someone who doesn’t have insurance. My cost was $40 but then the doctor’s office gave me a pharmaceutical company card and my cost was $0.
When I went to pick up my epi-pen I asked the pharmacist what people do if they have no insurance. She said they either don’t have one or they keep the same one well after it expires. This is what we have come to.

That made me so sad for people with nut, seafood, bee, and all other allergies. That means that there are probably thousands of people walking around out there without an epi-pen because they can’t afford to have one. I could barely afford the $120 co-pay at the doctor to just get the prescription.

This is why we need health care reform and I’m not just talking about insurance for everyone. That’s great too. I mean the part that says, “Decrease the cost of health care.” Until we reform and regulate how much hospitals, doctors and pharmacy companies are charging we won’t get anywhere because healthcare costs will continue to increase and so will insurance deductibles and co-pays.

I received two epi-pens in my pack and it made me think about how I will probably never use the second one. I wish that I could find a way to donate the extra pen back to my allergist or to a public clinic to give to someone who needs it and can’t afford it. That’s an idea worth exploring.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Quest for Hamilton Vanguard

As the 2014-2015 school year came to an end each child was accepted into a Magnet program/school and I thought we were done. Miranda was accepted into DeBakey, the High School of Health Professions and Seth was accepted into the STEM program at Hogg Middle School. However, Seth was not completely happy with that and he asked that I still try to get him into Hamilton. I spoke to the Vanguard Coordinator and found out that there is a Phase 2 application process.

Hamilton Middle School

This is how that works for you parents out there wondering about this. If you applied to Vanguard and your child didn’t get accepted based on his last year test scores or testing you can reapply in the summer. Let me use Seth as the example so you understand exactly what I mean because when I say “last year” it can be confusing.

So when we applied to Vanguard for 6th grade this past school year, Seth was in the 5th grade. The application asked for his test scores from his 4th grade year. Seth didn’t have the best year that year but his 5th grade teacher wrote him a great recommendation and I had high hopes. We also applied to magnet school programs. When we received the results he had been accepted into two magnet programs but not into the Vanguard program at Lanier, where I initially applied.
Important lesson to note here. Now that the application is done online you MUST apply to every Vanguard school you are interested in attending, not just one. In the past it was only one application and you chose the three schools you wanted in order. This year it was different because it was online. I didn’t know that and I applied to Hamilton late.

However, since he didn’t qualify for Vanguard all together he still wasn’t accepted into Hamilton. So the Vanguard coordinator told me this. You can reapply this summer with his last report card of 5th grade and his Iowa test scores from 5th grade. It took FOREVER for them to send us the Iowa test scores but last week they made them available and I dropped off a copy of Seth’s report card. I was thrilled when I received the news that he had been accepted to Hamilton into the Vanguard program.
I think this is important to know because there are so many parents out there that have no idea that they can still apply to the Vanguard program or Magnet schools, that still have space available, as late as the summer. It was a learning experience for us too and I thought I knew everything there was to know about applying to Magnet and Vanguard schools, but everything is a learning experience.

Hard to believe that this fall I’ll be the mom of a high school and middle school student! I have to cherish these next 4 years because in 3 years we’ll be dealing with college applications and more.
In additional good news, Miranda was invited to go back to Kinkaid next summer so I have 4 busy years ahead of me, between high school, middle school for Seth and summer programs for Miranda at Kinkaid. Hopefully Seth can also attend Kinkaid and his first summer will be Miranda’s last summer in the program.
I don’t even want to think that far ahead. I want them to stay exactly the same age they are right now. They aren’t babies any more but they are still young kids. In four years all of that is going to change.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Monsters, Zombies + Addicts by Gwendolyn Zepeda

The first thing that attracted me to Gwendolyn Zepeda’s first published book was the hilarious title, To The Last Man I Slept With and All the Jerks Just Like Him. (Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2004) It’s a great collection of short stories that are candid and comical observations on life.

I’ve always loved the titles of her books. When she was recently named Poet Laureate for the City of Houston she published Falling in Love with Fellow Prisoners, (Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2013) another great title. In her second book of poetry, Monsters, Zombies + Addicts (Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2015) Zepeda has written an exceptional collection of musings about life in the big city.
She writes about the mundane activities of life but adds an interesting point of view to things as common as going to the dentist in “New Teeth.” She shares her experiences as a working woman and the challenges we sometimes face with our identity as a woman in a male dominated profession. We also get to know more her Aunt Sylvia, whom Zepeda obviously loved very much.

The “Ringmaster’s Daughter” is written in a wonderful lyrical verse that is both intriguing and haunting. I had to read it a few times and it left me wondering who is the true Ringmaster of her poem. This was one of my top favorites.

Her “No Title” poem about the dog in a yard, dumb, drooling and flea bit, is a sad contemplation on life.  The last two lines evoke so many thoughts and feelings, “blocked by fences that nobody else can see.”  This reminded me of the saying that sometimes we are our own biggest obstacle.

Houston is a big city and a lot of things happen. We encounter so many different characters day to day and sad experiences. A few years ago a co-worker who worked in the office across the hall from me didn’t come to work. Later in the day his boss got a call from his wife that he had died. We learned that he’d taken his own life. “Sad Shock” reminded me of that experience and how we all felt that day and it made me wonder how many people have had a similar experience.

The book ends with “Aunt Sylvia’ almost as if Zepeda put it there as a tribute to her beloved aunt. It made me laugh out loud when I read it because I fondly remembered Westheimer near Montrose.

My daughter went to middle school down the street from that main drag area and I’ve told her, “Kids used to cruise this street on the weekends.” She looks around unimpressed, with no idea why we would have done that. Now trendy restaurants line the street right in that area where kids used to hang out of their cars having conversations with kids in other cars that passed them, blocking the street and slowing down traffic to a crawl. I think the city finally cracked down and prohibited that past time. It was the place to go and see “marvelous things” like Zepeda says. It was a rite of passage for many Houstonians in the 80s. It was part of our city's history.

That is why I love Monsters, Zombies + Addicts. It reminds me of Houston and all of our eclectic experiences, from going to the dentist, to our neighborhoods with flea bitten dogs, our work place where we struggle with our feminine identity and to the memories of growing up here. It covers all of this and more. I can't wait to see what else Zepeda has in store for us in her next book.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Social Media, Great for Procrastinators

I woke up today thinking about a lot of things. First of all I woke up thinking about how I have to clean out a broken refrigerator and also around it. That is enough to make me want to procrastinate and think of something else that I’d rather do. But the truth is, I have to do it. It’s one of those things that just has to be done and I’m the only one who can do it. Social media is always a great excuse to procrastinate so here I am.
My Pinterest Page that I'll talk about more here.
The other thing I thought about writing about is my recent deeper foray into social media. I’ve always blogged on here for fun. I’ve never done a lot to promote my blog or to sell advertising on this space. In other words, I’ve never made a business of this. I’ve also never really written about shoes, even though I do love shoes and that is the title. I’m more of a lifestyle blogger that blogs about being a mom, working and the many adventures I’ve had over these 11 years since I started this blog.
I blog a lot about education and the Magnet School program in the Houston Independent School District a lot. In the last three years since I’ve been divorced I blog about co-parenting. As a native Houstonian that loves her city, I blog about Houston, and here lately about caring for my elderly dad. I have a project I’m working on with my dad called Dicho a Day. We record these videos where he says a dicho in Spanish and then I give it its best Spanish translation. Those can be found on my YouTube channel. I also started writing about caring for my dad on Latina Lista in a column called Padre Care.
I finally decided to change my social media descriptions on all my profiles with one uniform theme. So if you go here on my blog, to my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google +, YouTube and Pinterest you see six main hashtags. #shoegirlcorner, #dichoaday, #loveHipHouston, #workingMama, #coparenting and most recently, #PadreCare in my profile description. These are my six main themes on social media, whether it’s me posting a photo of the Houston skyline on Instagram or directing people over to something about my dad.
Here recently I’ve learned a couple of new things. One is that my Pinterest page gets a lot more traffic than any of my other social media channels. Like a crazy amount of page views for just a regular me. The board that gets the most action is my Someecards board. Coincidentally, or not, that’s another one of my obsessions. I love writing and making Someecards under the User Cards. I’ve created a bunch on their site and then I pin them over to my board. I have a few of my own creations that have been re-pinned quite a few times. As well as some of the ones created by others that I just share. It turns out a lot of people have my same my wacky sense of humor.
So my new idea is to try and leverage some of that Pinterest traffic over to my other channels and especially to my blog. My poor little blog that has been getting the least attention from me lately. This is the same blog that has its own URL, but that I haven’t done anything with that. My designer friend has given me three layouts to choose from and I still need to get back to him on which design I prefer so he can help me launch my blog on my own platform.
Another social media channel that I recently joined and that I really need to learn more about it Periscope. It’s owned by Twitter, it allows you to video live and the video goes down after 24 hours. I really tried it for the first time last night with Dicho a Day.
I learn so much about social media from the Blog Elevated group. This is a group of fantastic women who have so much information to share and they will be hosting their third conference this year. It’s lead by Lisa Stauber and Bobbie Byrd. I’ve participated in their Twitter chat on Tuesday evenings and I’m trying to do it more consistently so I can learn even more. The more I learn the better I will hopefully get at promoting all my writing and creative efforts. That is my goal!