Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The 1000 Words a Day Diet

I’m trying to finish another novel. This one is about a seventh-grade language arts teacher that is not good at her job. (Any resemblance to real persons living or dead is purely coincidental.) It’s really an exploration of the mechanics of being really bad at your job. I’ve always imagined it goes deeper than what goes on in the workplace. So, that’s the new book.

It’s really hard to write it. Or perhaps it’s very easy to procrastinate writing it. At any rate, I got a few thousand words in and then felt accomplished because I thought about the story every day. I’d forgive myself for skimping on the actual work because I was pre-planning.

Aware that my pace was going to result in another five-year effort, I put myself on a 1,000 word a day plan two weeks ago. Monday through Friday I write 1,000 words per day. I do not edit. I do not get credit for thinking. I make a little note each day of my word total so I know how far I have to go before stopping.

It’s been working most days. Yesterday I wrote 400 words, but today I went beyond my requirement. All in all, it’s producing a first draft that’s moving in the direction of being finished. During this decade.

Do you have any motivational strategies for keeping your work in progress going?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Wherein the HealthSherpa Was Less Than Helpful

I adore the Affordable Care Act. Years ago when my husband and I parted ways with employer-provided healthcare, the ACA was just glimmering on the horizon. We looked at pre-ACA plans and found premiums in excess of $1400 per month for two healthy non-smoking adults. Unable to fork over that amount, we opted for a "catastrophic policy" that cost $40 per month and allegedly offered protection in the event of major illness or injury.

We never made a claim, but I'm thinking that garbage insurance wasn't going to be a huge help if our health failed.

A few months later, the Affordable Care Act passed. Miraculously, we had coverage, good coverage, for under $500 per month. No subsidies, just straight up.

So every November we go through our annual renewal with HealthCare.gov. The process starts with a letter from our insurance carrier indicating the next year's premium will be a significant amount higher than the previous year. We have to go onto the website and fill out a form which invariably hangs up at some point causing me to spend fifteen minutes on the phone with HealthCare.gov customer service. We pick through plans and somehow come away with lower premiums and lower copays.

It's a little annoying, but nothing like the sheer terror of insurance shopping in the pre-ACA days.

This year, the HealthCare.gov website was wonkier than ever. I couldn't make it past the first screen verifying our address and county of residence. I tried different browsers, used the Internet from my phone, did everything possible to make the infernal system-working-spinny-circle go away. I don't enjoy calling customer service.

There was nothing for it. Our application was stuck.

In a last-ditch effort to do it myself, online, without a phone call, I discovered HealthSherpa. HealthSherpa advertises itself as "the fastest and easiest way to enroll in ACA / Marketplace health insurance."

Fast and easy. Yay.

We decided on a plan within minutes and clicked "enroll." HealthSherpa kicked us back to HealthCare.gov. Spinny circle. Again.

Now into the fourth session of attempting to renew this coverage with the looming countdown prominent at every turn (only 18 days left to sign up!), I had to call the 800 number anyway.

A very nice guy that sounded super far away was able to take all of my information and complete the application. He made sure I was able to get to the part where I could look at the plans before bidding me good day and sending me on my way. I was so close to success.

And then HealthCare.gov kicked me back to HealthSherpa to enroll in a plan.

Apparently, using HealthSherpa to look at available coverage caused some impermeable link between the HealthCare.gov application and their fast and easy service. 


I clicked "enroll" and HealthSherpa "encountered an unexpected error and is unable to enroll at this time."

My blood was kind of boiling at this point. But, since I was already in a phone calling sort of mode, I called HealthSherpa. HealthSherpas are supposed to be really wonderful to talk to. It's part of their insurance made fast, easy, and simple schtick.

The Sherpa lady says to me, "why didn't HealthCare.gov have you pick a new plan?"

I told her that I'm changing plans and that I needed to look at all the plans and most of all the HealthCare.gov guy didn't wanna.

The Sherpa lady needed to talk to my husband.

There is little on this earth that irritates me as much as a customer service representative needing to TALK TO MY HUSBAND. Sure, I understand that people get divorced and have all the reasons that they shouldn't be allowed to call in and cancel each other's credit cards. I get it. It's just that I've been married to this man for sixteen going on forever years. I want there to be a special blue check by my name that indicates to the world: just do what she says, he's going to ask her what she wants him to do anyway. 

My husband used his man voice to tell the Sherpa lady our address. Boom. Suddenly I was verified.

The HealthSherpa couldn't find, pick, and/or understand the coverage I was trying to obtain. Exasperated, I asked if she could disconnect her service from my ACA application. She said she'd call me back in ten minutes.

Eleven minutes later I found a link on HealthCare.gov. It said something like, "continue to view plans with HealthCare.gov if you no longer wish to use a partner website."

Fifteen minutes later the HealthSherpa called and told me to look for that link.

In summary, just call the HealthCare.gov hotline. If by some small mercy the Health Insurance Marketplace still exists next fall, I'm giving the circle one spin before making the call.

Boom. Health insurance.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Tuesday Pants and Free Pajama Jeans

Comfort is my key to happiness. You will never find me wearing heels and during my work at home days, I'm always in soft pants. Zippers and buttons put me in a bad mood.

This proclivity toward particular pants has been a constant throughout my life. During college, I organized my schedule so that I was on campus for the minimum amount of time possible. On my days off of school, I worked 8:30-5. For a while, it was school on Saturday and work Monday through Friday. Marketing classes weren't offered on Saturday, so I eventually had to switch to alternating school and work days during the week.

This led to the rise of the Tuesday Pants.

My Monday course load combined with the hour commute to college kept me out quite late and made Tuesdays at work a miserable, fatigued wreck. My professional business attire only included four different pairs of dress pants with a rotating cast of dress shirts and sweaters. I found a pair of fleece drawstring pants that were gray and fit, I thought, the same as any dress slacks in my wardrobe. They put no pressure on my waist and made life a little easier. I took to wearing them on Tuesdays to compensate for the difficulty of my schedule.

And so they became my "Tuesday Pants."

A couple of years later, I found myself a college graduate in a different office. I'd wear the pants on Tuesday just for the nostalgia. Nearing the end of my days in the office as I anticipated the birth of my daughter, I wore the pants on other days of the week. I resisted a maternity wardrobe and those pants still fit. Sort of.

Eventually, the belly won out. My Tuesday Pants burst at the seams. Their retirement was difficult. The taxing days of mothering a newborn could have really used some comfortable pants.

I learned about Pajama Jeans via a television ad. Jeans that feel like pajamas but look like, well, jeans? Count me it! I began to lust after the comfort.

Alas, I am thrifty (read: cheap) and though I stalked stores and online shops, Pajama Jeans were always too big of an investment. I found another pair of Tuesday Pants at Target just this year. They're just like the old ones and I figured I really wasn't meant to have legwear that transitioned from in-home comfort to public acceptability. Tuesday Pants only ever looked business casual in my mind. I decided to keep my $40 and keep changing out of sweats and into jeans to go to Trader Joe.

The Pajama Jeans mailing list promised coupons, but they were never enough to get me to buy a pair. I entered my junk email address and deleted free shipping offers with regularity.

Then, just weeks ago, an offer for an absolutely free pair of Pajama Jeans! What luck! What comfort. I danced around my house that day. Think how my life was about to change.

The pants came on Election Day. I put them on immediately right in my kitchen. My very first impression was positive. The material was soft, probably should have been washed before the first wearing, but comfortable.

The day wore on and I began to notice things about the pants. The waist was small and high. There was pooching extra space for wide hips that I don't have. My husband asked, "did they send you pajama mom jeans?"

After four hours in the Pajama Jeans, I felt as prickly as a girl that's been wearing stiff denim all day. The drawstring waist was made to look like a pair of jeans. It was all the inconvenience of zipperless pants with none of the benefit. When evening arrived, I was eager to change into real pajama pants.

"If they wanted you to like them, they should have sent you nicer ones," my husband remarked.
"Maybe they need washed," I said, ever hopeful.

But they just don't fit my body. Even if they did, they're more jeans than pajamas. My only consolation is that I didn't part with $40 for this disappointment. And I still have my Tuesday Pants.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

#IWSG -- Writing and Creativity

It's November. Finally. The midterm election is over and my mailbox can go back to its usual condition: empty.

A new month brings another round of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Read all about it and sign up here.

November 7th Question - How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing?

The awesome co-hosts for the November 7 posting of the IWSG are Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Ann V. Friend, JQ Rose, and Elizabeth Seckman!

To adequately assess the evolution of my creativity after writing, I'd have to pinpoint when I actually started. 

Was it when my mom gave me a tiny blue diary covered in pink bunnies and told me to start "journaling like Oprah?" That was just after I learned to print letters.

Was it when my first-grade teacher encouraged us to write stories that she'd laminate or publish by enclosing the typewritten pages in fabric covered cardboard? Those stories captured my six-year-old understanding of the world. "My mom likes to go to the mall and take naps," I wrote. 

Or it could have been in the fifth grade when my teacher, Ms. Guzowski, presided over "writer's workshop." I read a delightful work of suspense to the class about a slumber party interrupted by scary noises.

Each of those starting points is early enough that I consider all of my creativity to have developed after writing. I was writing before I had anything to write about. 

I feel myself getting less creative as I get further from childhood. I blame dishes and laundry and the never-ending repetitive cycle of stuff that gets in the way of true creativity. In a world where it feels like everything worth doing has already been done, I'm apt to look at Pinterest when I need an idea. Inspiration of my own can be quite fleeting.

Perhaps this is evolution. I hope not though.

Big Teeth & Clouds went through a bit of evolution a few weeks back and has transitioned into my very own author platform. All of the old Big Teeth posts are still here. I'm just taking on a more professional appearance here on the interwebs. And a custom URL. Fancy. :)