Category Archives: Events

The Spirit of Christmas during Lent

Cookie I like to bake right before the holiday’s. This year I invited family over on baking day, pulled out the ornaments and decorations and served cookies, hot cinnamon rolls and drinks as people came and went during the day .  It was loads of work but I enjoyed it so much that I’ll definitely do it again next year with a few changes.  I especially loved that so many people added ornaments to the tree and embellishments to the house and the cookies.

Unfortunately some of the cookies that came out of the oven broke and they lingered on the table undecorated until Rachel arrived. Rachel is my son Benjamin‘s housemate and girlfriend. As I pulled trays of cookies from the oven she visited with me and began mending the broken cookies, fusing their decapitated heads and disemboweled bodies with frosting. It was so Nightmare Before Christmas I was sorry I didn’t break more cookies in the process of baking finding them darkly entertaining and befitting to our holiday history.

For years we topped our tree with an angel. We were very poor the year I bought the angel tree topper, she was affordable but didn’t look very angelic…more evil and she never stood erect at the top of the tree, she leaned forward with her wings spread like she was hawking over us…leering.  Over time she became known among family members as our Archangel* and long after we could afford to replace her she maintained her place atop our Christmas tree fusing us together with memories of dark humor and harder times. Holiday cookies with stitches fit right in even if Rachel was too new to our family to fully realize it.

Throughout the holiday season the decorated cookies were stored in tins and eventually were pared down to a single plastic storage container where a single disemboweled cookie got stuck to the side of the container. I left him there because it made me laugh and even after the container was completely empty he went undisturbed out of fear he would break. On random occasions I’d talk to him and even ask his preferences as to the evenings dinner menu… he noted a marked preference for lamb.

Cookie is no longer stuck to the plastic container and has since taken up residences on my baker’s rack in the kitchen. Next Christmas I’ll bake a girl cookie named Ginger with Angelina Jolie’s lips, plastic surgery stitches and a bent for short, bald guys who smell like sweetened vanilla.

*In true biblical fashion the Archangel perished during a flood in 2004 …really.

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Filed under Cooking, Events, Fiction Writing, Food, Holiday, Humor, Life, Minnesota Fiction, United States

A Riding Vacuum Cleaner:)

Henry Hoover playing hide and seek
Image by itspaulkelly via Flickr

Today was a shopping day which included the purchase of a new vacuum cleaner. I procrastinate these kinds of purchases because I hate spending over 200.00 on an item that isn’t in anyway fun. For that kind of money I could buy an iPod Touch or one of those under the cupboard television sets with the screen that flips down; you know fun. I planned to purchase one last year but didn’t which meant that buying one this year was a must.

Since I wasn’t going to get anything remotely entertaining I picked a Hoover WindTunnel vacuum cleaner. This particular model was the small canister type that I could use on carpet or wood floors but the real clincher to the deal was that it looked like I could sit on it and scoot from room to room if I was so inclined. This made the Hoover WindTunnel the perfect choice  because the  purchase was both functional and fun (wink).

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Filed under Books, Events, Fiction Writing, General, health, Life, Minnesota Fiction, Politics, Royalton

Groundhogs Day: A Reason To Frighten Small Animals

Frightening Small AnimalsReprinted from My Way:

Ben Hughes, handler of the weather-predicting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, holds Phil in the air after removing him from his stump at Gobbler’s Knob on Groundhog Day, Monday, Feb. 2, 2009, in Punxsutawney, Pa. The Groundhog Club said Phil saw his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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Pennsylvania Earthquake, Fire Claims 7

Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Pennsylvania resident & Twitter tweeter, Jim Macmillan reported an earthquake to his Twitter network Dec. 27, 2008, just after midnight. Macmillan thought that the area hardest hit by the quake appeared to be an area he referred to as the Pennsylvania Dutch country” .

Also reported was a house fire that claimed the lives of 7 Pennsylvania residents. It’s not yet known if the fire is related to the quake but the New York Times haa reported that 4 adults & 3 children were found in the basement of the building. Firefighters reported that the building was not equipped with smoke detectors and that the group died huddled together in the corner.

It’s one of those events where you wish you had a do-over, so you could go to their home with the necessary supplies, install the proper safety devises to ensure the safe evacuation of everyone. My deepest sympathy goes out to the 4 survivors and their families.

Update: Early morning reports indicate that Three Mile Island was effected by the Pennsylvania quake. According to follow up reports the fire which claim 7 lives appears to be unrelated.

Jim MacMillan’s personal account: Just F8 and Be There, But Faster

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Filed under Authors, Blog, Events, Pennsylvania, Photographs, United States

Merry Christmas:)

Christmas was difficult last year because it was Alexa’s first Christmas since her father died.  This year promised to be easier but then her pet Chinchilla died last night…ccertainly didn’t need that. Nonetheless, we are looking forward to a very laid back celebration this year…no turkey and gravy and all that work  this year I’m baking a ham because it’s easier.  I even briefly considered using paper plates to avoid dishes but felt guilty leaving my beautiful Spode Christmas china unused for another year.

This year we will eat, drink, play Raving Rabbits on the Wii, open gifts and most of all we will be together…just waiting for Ben!

Happy Holiday’s, I hope its a good one!


Filed under Cooking, Events, Holiday, Life, Royalton

Autism, Health Care Twitter Day:My Thoughts as Nick and Alexa’s Mom

Autism and Health Care Twitter day December 23rd all day.

A video should appear in this spot but because I’m posting this in WordPress it doesn’t appear to be working so, here is a link instead.

Click here  to log on to my Lost Marbles website on Blogger to have access to this post complete with video.

Before I launch into my thoughts on Health Care I’d like to introduce my son Nick and my daughter Alexa. Nick suffered a shot reaction as an infant and has Aspergers and Alexa has been sick since…forever. Also referred to as Bubble Girl, Alexa has no immune system against common illnesses, a disorder that took over 16 years to diagnose and only after I forced a referral from the iron fist of our local clinic. Specialist are currently looking into the possibility that Alexa may also suffer from Lupus.

Currently, Alexa is 18 and attends Blue Sky Charter school, an online high school and will graduate in the spring. Alexa plans to attend college in the fall of 2009 and major in Asian studies.

Nick is completing his second year at Central Lakes Community College and plans to transfer to Augsberg University where he will major in Space Physics.

As a mother who raised 3 children, 2 with special needs in a single parent household I have many thoughts regarding health and preventative medicine. Also on the effects of the many pollutants that taint in our food supply, our water and our air including those approved by the FDA. In the interest of time I will only address the issue of Health Care in this post but hope that the Obama administration takes a GIANT BROOM and cleans up government agencies like the FDA. The words, Approved by the FDA should actually means something to the American people.

Despite its original publication in 2006, Public Citizens list of arguments in favor of a Single Payer System are still valid. Since portions of the original publication were relevant to activities taking place in 2006, I am posting portions germane to the current question.

July 28, 2006 – The rationale for single payer has become increasingly compelling right now, when U.S. businesses are feeling the pinch of rising health care costs, the number of uninsured continues to rise, the nation is losing its comparative advantage in world markets, hospitals are eager to shed the burden of their “bad debt and charity” pool, and consumers are increasingly baffled by an array of insurers who offer confusion in the guise of “choice.”

The main argument in favor of a single payer is that such a system is the only way we can realistically afford to end the dangerous, embarrassing, and worsening situation wherein about 45 million people in this country lack health insurance and millions more are seriously uninsured. In addition there are a number of practical reasons for having a single payer; these are summarized below.

Single Payer is good for business. Publicly financed but privately run health care for all would cost employers far less in taxes than their costs for insurance. With universal coverage, employers would no longer have to pay for medical care as part of the compensation package offered to workers. And with health care outlays expected to increase between 14 percent and 18 percent between now and 2010, employers can expect no relief from the already unsustainable situation they are facing at present. A survey of senior-level executive in Detroit found that 75 percent consider employee health insurance “unaffordable,” while the remaining 25 percent consider it “very unaffordable.”

If the situation is untenable for individual employers, it is even worse for the economy as a whole. Increases in health care costs are a drag on economic growth: they thwart job growth, suppress increases for current workers, weaken the viability of pension funds, and depress the quality of jobs. Rising health care costs are also causing budgetary problems for federal and state governments, which are currently paying over 50 percent of the U.S. health care bill.

Universal health coverage would also have a salutary effect on labor-management relations. Many if not most strikes in the past five years have involved conflicts over health benefits. Universal coverage would defuse this contentious issue, provide benefits independent of employment status, and allow business greater flexibility in whom to hire.

Single Payer will enhance the comparative position of the U.S. in the global market. President Bush has repeatedly said that the United States is not reluctant to compete on the international market as long as there is an even playing field. At present, the lack of universal health insurance places the U.S. at a disadvantage vis-à-vis other countries. Companies such as General Motors that have factories in both the US and other countries have learned this lesson well; for example, in 2003 the costs of manufacturing a midsized car in Canada were $1,400 less than that of manufacturing the identical car in the US, primarily because of much higher health costs in this country.

Single Payer builds on the existing experience. Those who fear that single payer is new and foreign, and therefore untested, need to be reminded that Medicare is, in essence, a single payer system. For those who are eligible, Medicare is universal and identical, not means-tested, and administered by the government, which acts as a single payer for hospital and outpatient physician services. Because it did not have to sift and sort the population or cope with a layer of insurers, the rollout of Medicare in 1966 was amazingly smooth. Practically overnight—and without computers— the program covered services provided by 6,600 hospitals, 250,000 physicians, 1,300 home health agencies, and hundred of nursing homes. By the end of its first year, Medicare had enrolled more than 90 percent of eligible Americans, a feat that cemented its popularity and redeemed President Johnson’s faith in the efficacy of government.

In contrast, Part D of Medicare, which departed from the single payer model and introduced private insurers, encountered the wrath of consumers who were unable to maneuver the complicated choices required to obtain prescription drug benefits.

Single Payer has significantly lower administrative costs. Studies by both the Congressional Budget Office and the General Accounting Office have repeatedly shown that single payer universal health care would save significant dollars in administrative costs. As early as 1991, the GAO concluded that if the universal coverage and single payer features of the Canadian system had been applied in the United States that year, the total savings (then estimated at $66.9 billion) “would have been more than enough to finance insurance coverage for the millions of American who are currently uninsured.” More recently, estimates published in the International Journal of Health Services conclude that “streamlining administrative overhead to Canadian levels would save approximately $286 billion in 2002, $6,940 for each of the 41.2 million Americans who were uninsured as of 2001. This is substantially more than would be needed to provide full insurance coverage.” At present, the U.S. spends 50 percent to 100 percent more on administration than countries with single payer systems.

Single Payer facilitates quality control. Having a single payer system would create for the United States a comprehensive, accurate, and timely national data base on health service utilization and health outcomes. This would provide information on gaps and disparities or duplication of care, thereby serving as valuable intelligence for decision-making and resource allocation. At present, the closest analogy to this is the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), which has been highly successful in containing costs while providing excellent care. The key to its success is that it is a universal, integrated system. As Paul Krugman has written in an op-ed piece in The New York Times: “Because it covers all veterans, the system doesn’t need to employ legions of administrative staff to check patients’ coverage and demand payment from their insurance companies. Because it’s integrated, providing all forms of medical care, it has been able to take the lead in electronic record-keeping and other innovations that reduce costs, ensure effective treatment and help prevent medical errors.”

Single Payer gives the government greater leverage to control costs. A single payer would be able to take advantage of economies of scale and exert greater leverage in bargaining with providers, thereby controlling costs. Recent experiences with both the VHA system and Medicare Part D indicate the difference exerting such leverage can make. The Department of Veterans Affairs uses its power as a major purchaser to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical makers. But when the legislation leading to the drug prescription plan (better known as Medicare Part D) was passed, Congress explicitly barred negotiating prices with drug makers. The results of this are now becoming evident: at present, the VA is paying 46 percent less for the most popular brand-name drugs than the average prices posted by the Medicare plans for the same drugs. Because Part D increased the effective demand for drugs without controlling costs, prescription drug prices have risen sharply: during the first quarter of 2006, prices for brand-name pharmaceuticals “jumped 3.9 percent, four times the general inflation rate … and the largest quarterly price increase in six years.”

If this trend is allowed to continue unchecked, it could jeopardize the fiscal viability of the Medicare drug program and seriously undermine whatever political and public support it now has. In addition, this could have significant repercussions on the program as a whole. In the words of economist Stephen W. Schondelmeyer, who specializes in drug industry issues, “Higher drug prices may lead to higher premiums next year, which may discourage enrollees from joining or staying in the program, and fewer enrollees could drive premiums even higher.”

Single Payer promotes greater accountability to the public. One of the key features of the U.S. health care system is its fragmentation. When every player is responsible for only part of the care of part of the population part of the time, there is no overall accountability for how the system functions as whole. Consumers are therefore left wondering who is in charge, and whom they can appeal to when their knowledge is incomplete or their care is inadequate.

The most recent report to Congress of the Medicare Advisory Commission recognizes this: “…perverse payment system incentives, lack of information, and fragmented delivery systems are barriers for full accountability.”

The creation of a single payer would provide an opportunity for creating a system run by a public trust. Benefits and payments would be decided by the insurer which would be under the control of a diverse board representing consumers, providers, business and government.

Single Payer fosters transparency in coverage decisions. Ironically, single payer plans have been criticized for “making all sorts of unbearable trade-offs explicit government policy, rather than obscuring them in complexities.” But we support such explicit trade-offs. Given finite resources, it may not be possible to cover every single treatment, device or pharmaceutical a patient may require or desire. Priorities must be set, and the criteria for these should be transparent and consistently applied.

The practice of “obscuring trade-offs” is irresponsible and demeaning to the American public. Medical care decisions are too important and affect everyone too directly to be made surreptitiously. Moreover, forcing policy-makers to make decisions concerning what to cover will ensure their confronting issues of safety, efficacy, and value-for-money that are often circumvented or overlooked. Trade-offs that are transparent to health care consumers will therefore be in the public’s interest.


Filed under Events, Government, health, Life

December 12, 2008 Largest Full Moon of the Year

 According to NASA, on Dec. 12th the Moon becomes full a scant 4 hours after reaching perigee, making it 14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser full Moons we’ve seen earlier in 2008.


Filed under Events, Science