Saturday, February 22, 2014

Turkey Sausage, Lentil and Rice Casserole

During my hiatus from blog-writing, I've decided to get healthier and take the power back in my life. I'll be the first to admit that over these last few years I've begun to let myself go- not just physically, but emotionally as well. I can't lay the blame for that solely on having a child, because it started before that, but it ends here. So part of my attempt to recover my former self is to join Weight Watchers again. I had some success with it in the past, and years ago it helped me lose 20 lbs. So far I'm down about 10, with about 40 more to go. Crazy thing is, I actually lost all the baby weight, and then some (thank you gallstones!) but after having my gallbladder removed I gained a lot of it back.

Joining Weight Watchers has led me to revamp some of my favorite recipes to be healthier and "program friendly". One of my all time favorite is Sausage, Lentil, and Rice Casserole, which already wasn't too terrible except for the sausage. The original recipe wasn't mine, I found multiple versions of it on the internet. I've modified it to make it healthier and it honestly tastes the same as the original (I swear, even the Husband agreed)! Plus it's super easy and relatively quick. So here it is:

Ingredients:

1lb Hot (or Sweet) Italian Turkey Sausage, removed from casings
2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 dried lentils, rinsed
1/2 brown rice, uncooked
2 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 green bell pepper (or red, if you prefer), chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped


Directions:

In a large pan, heat olive oil and crumble sausage into pan. If using a non-stick pan, the oil can be omitted. Cook thoroughly. While sausage is cooking, begin precooking the brown rice in 1 cup of water (about 15 minutes). After sausage is cooked through, remove from pan. Add onion and pepper to pan and saute until tender, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan as you cook. Add sausage back to pan, and add the chicken broth, the other 1 cup water, lentils and precooked rice (with its water) into the pan. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until lentils and rice are cooked and liquid is mostly absorbed. Makes 4 servings.

Alterations: You can also cut the sausage into chunks if you prefer. To make this casserole into a soup instead, simply add more water and/or chicken broth as needed. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Why I Hate Obamacare...

So when I originally started this blog, I had intended to talk about things besides just parenting and "mommy" issues. So far, that hasn't happened, but there is a political issue that hits home with me that I have to write about and that is.... Obamacare. Otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act, the intent of this law was to allow the 30+ million Americans without coverage to get insurance and for people like my family, whom the government decided had inadequate coverage, to get "better" insurance. Here is my family's situation and I'll let you decide whether the ACA has improved it or not.

My husband is self-employed and thus we buy our own insurance. Until the ACA mandates went into effect, we paid approximately $900 a month for our insurance. We had no deductible, no co-insurance, and our plans covered everything that the ACA mandates. We did not need to designate a PCP or need a referral to see a specialist. The only ACA non-compliant part is that the policy has a max payout of $1 million and other limits, such as $500 a year for diagnostic testing, etc. These were limits that we were completely fine with, and we specifically chose this plan because it was the best fit for our family. I should also add that we are a generally healthy, non-smoking family with no medical issues aside from the occasional ear infection or bout of strep. We also do not qualify for a subsidy on the exchanges.

Fast forward 3 years. We were three of the millions of people who got cancellation notices because our policies were deemed by the government to be substandard. The closest plan we could get to our old plan is $938 per month (not that big of a deal) BUT has a $2000 individual/$4000 family deductible, 40% co-insurance, and a max out of pocket of $6350 individual/ $12,700 family. And that is for a Silver plan. The deductible, co-insurance, and max out of pocket for the Bronze plan is even higher, though the premiums are slightly less.

The argument in favor of why this is better that I most often hear is that "well in the event of a medical catastrophe, you could go bankrupt under your old plan!". Here is why that argument is invalid. Yes, medical expenses account for over half of all bankruptcies. But I would guess that most people assume, as I once did, that those filing for bankrupcty have huge amounts of medical bills, when in fact the average for individuals who had insurance was only $17,749 (according to a bankruptcy study done by Harvard in 2007, the same study that was used time and time again as a justification for why the ACA was needed). By the way, that same study determined that 80% people filing for medical bankruptcies HAD insurance. Since that number was from 2007, it is likely to be a littler higher now, but I couldn't find exact numbers for the average medical debt in bankruptcy now (if anyone else has them, please share).

If I ever end up with medical bills in excess of $1 million dollars, yes this new "improved" insurance may save me from bankruptcy. But given that the average medical debt of bankruptcy filers is only $17,749, it is likely that this will NOT be the case. There are any number of ways to exceed that threshold even with my new, "better" insurance. The coverage factors between the new and old policies were roughly the same, so things that would not have been covered under the old policy still would not be covered under the new. Plus now my provider network is significantly reduced, increasing the likelihood that I might require treatment from an out-of-network provider. Since we are playing the "what if" game, what if I fell ill and was taken, unconscious, to a hospital that is not in my network? I would then be footing the entire bill (or at the very least, 50%- with no max out of pocket limit) which would easily put me into bankruptcy territory. That doesn't even take into account the extra $6350 in in-network medical bills that I would have to pay under the new policy, but not the old. And let's face it, the most likely thing to cause my family a catastrophic injury as healthy young adults (and a child) is a car accident, in which case my auto insurance would be responsible for the first $500k of medical bills, giving me close to $1.5 million in expenses before I would have had to pay anything. The chances of needing more than that are very, very slim and, frankly, a risk we were willing to take. A risk we should have been free to take, but the government said no.

In truth, there are any number of things that can send a person into bankruptcy. The sudden death of a wage-earning spouse for example. Are we next to mandate that everyone carry minimum amounts of life insurance? What if there is an earthquake, are we to over-regulate homeowner's insurance next? I don't live in an earthquake prone area, yet a couple of years ago we did in fact have an earthquake. Had it severely damaged my home, it would not have been covered by my homeowner's policy and we probably would have had to file bankruptcy. Should everyone now be forced to have earthquake insurance on their insurance policies, whether they are likely to need it or not? Or flood insurance for those not in a flood plain? The truth of the matter is, shit happens in life. You can't adequately prepare for every risk that may or may not happen to you, and the government certainly can't prepare you for it either. You can only do the best with what you have. You weighh the risks and make the decision that is best for you at the time, and re-evaluate later should circumstances change. 

What bothers me most about the ACA is that the government is telling me that I don't know what is best for my family. That I'm not intelligent enough to weigh the risks associated with the insurance policy I had, or that I don't have the financial means to cope in the event that it proves to be insufficient. Not only has it interfered with my choice of coverage, it has also interfered with my choice of doctors and hospitals. It has even interfered with our ability to expand our family. It will now cost us approximately $5000 more to have a child than it did when The Climber was born. So I ask you... am I really better off with this new policy?

Perhaps I would be more amenable to the ACA if it was shown to be fulfilling its intended purpose- to get the uninsured coverage and to lower health care costs. So far, it does not seem to be doing much of either. According to various news outlets, the majority of those who've gained coverage on the exchanges are people who have signed up for Medicaid (a large number of which would have been eligible even without the ACA) or people who already had insurance and were either dropped like we were or looking for a better deal. It does not seem to be doing anything to lower medical costs either and seems to in fact be doing the opposite. Higher premiums, larger deductibles, increased co-insurance, and larger out of pocket maximums seem to be the chief complaints. And then there was that pesky study in Oregon that showed emergency room visits actually increased after more people had coverage.

But instead of simply complaining like everyone else, I will offer a two-part solution for reducing medical costs. First, go back to the way it was when health insurance first came about. Have it be for major medical only (catastrophic illness or injury, maternity care, surgery, etc.) and pay everyday medical expenses out of pocket.  Second, regulate the insurance companies ability to "contract-down" what they pay to providers. Yes, a major source of increasing medical costs can be attributed to those who don't pay their bills. But there will always be people who don't pay... that is something that will never go away. But when you have the major insurance companies paying 11% (or less) of the total costs to a provider? Of course they are going to up their prices to make up that loss. Don't even get me started on the low reimbursement rates of Medicare and Medicaid. If providers are able to recoup more of what they bill, eventually costs will go down. And recognize that different providers have different operating costs. An urban Level 1 Trauma Center that is also a teaching hospital, for example, is going to have a much greater overhead than a small, rural hospital and as a result, will always be more expensive. I think a lot of people are quick to blame doctors and hospitals for their exorbitant prices without really understanding what goes into determining those prices.

In the end, has the ACA helped some people? I'm sure the answer to that is yes. Has it hurt more people than it's helped? I would argue that the answer to that is also yes.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Typical Conversation with My 3 Year Old

This is a verbatim conversation I had with The Climber today. It's pretty representative of just about every conversation we have.

Him: "Mommy?"

Me: "Yes dear?"

Him: "Mommy?"

Me: "What is it honey?"

Him: "Um, Mommy?"

Me: "What?"

Him (angrily): "Mommy why aren't you answering me?!?"

Me: "Because you didn't say anything yet."

Him: "Oh, I forgot. Um, Mommy?"

Me: "What?"

Him: "Um, I have to ask you something."

Me: "Ok, what do you need to ask me?"

Him: "Mommy?"

Me (exasperated): "WHAT IS IT?"

Him: (Insert random thing that he wants to tell me, finally)


Repeat about 25 times a day. And my husband wonders why I've lost the ability to communicate coherently by the time he gets home from work. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

We got a new pet!

Back in the fall, we had promised The Climber a fish for Christmas if he kept being a good boy. Then come Christmas, we forgot... and shockingly, so did The Climber! Until last Thursday that is, when he suddenly remembered and got really upset. A promise is a promise after all, so off to the pet store we went! He was allowed to pick out any fish he wanted, provided it was a betta. Behold!






I formally present the newest addition to our family- Blue Blue You! You can guess who named him, and yes he is, in fact, blue. But I'm really in no position to make fun of The Climber's pet naming skills, because when I was little I had a parakeet named Parakeet. It must be hereditary!

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Ultimate Blog Party 2013!!







I'm relatively new to the whole blog-o-sphere thing, so I was really excited to find out about the 2013 Ultimate Blog Party over at 5 Minutes for Mom. As a SAH parent who was once a lawyer, it's really easy to go a little stir crazy staying at home with a 3.5 year old all day long!

So here we go. My name is Lauren, and I used to be a lawyer (sort of) before quitting my job in 2011 to stay at home with my son, The Climber. I started this blog as a way of keeping my sanity, using my brain for something other than configuring Thomas train track layouts, and connecting with other parents who also may be just a little bit lonely while at home with their kids. I had originally intended this blog to talk about non-child related things as well, and with any luck I'll get to that eventually. So far, it seems I've become the stereotypical parent who writes about nothing but parenting. Hopefully, my blog will at least provide you with a laugh, even if it's just a chuckle of commiseration! So come on in and say hello, and if you want to leave a link to your blog as well, feel free. I'm always looking for new blogs to read in the moments that I'm not playing Legos and trains!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

I have become a cliche...

I swore I'd never let my kid watch TV, and now it's on for hours each day. I've licked my finger to wipe crud off my kid's face. My sleeve/hair/face has been used as a tissue. I don't always get to shower. I can't pee or poop with the door closed. I continue to listen to the Phineas and Ferb soundtrack even when my kid is no longer in the car. I see Thomas train track layouts when I close my eyes. I'm the freaking room parent for my kid's class. I buy all these crafts for The Climber but usually only end up doing about half of them. I swore I'd never take him to McDonald's, but it's now his favorite restaurant. I've judged other moms for something, as I'm sure I've been judged. I've been that parent in Target with the crying child. I have a "Mommy Blog". My house often looks like a Toys R Us exploded inside it. I've taken my kid on "playdates". I've been known to sanitize the communal trains at Barnes and Noble with wipes before The Climber touches them. I have "mom jeans" (though I try not to wear them outside). I feel like a horrible parent when I have to bring The Climber out in public with any visible (if self-inflicted) injury. My clothes usually have something spilled on them by the end of the day. Glitter is a banned substance in my house. I still check on The Climber before bed to make sure he's still breathing.

The list goes on and on.

I have become a cliche. But you know what? That's alright. Because I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Toddler Rules to Live By

I know this has been done before, but I have a few more rules to add to the various lists already circling the internet.


Toddler Rules to Live By
 
1) I will not walk, but run (or bounce) everywhere we go. Unless we are in a rush or late, in which case I will walk as slowly as possible, making sure to examine everything I pass in excruciating detail.

2) I will never want to willingly use the potty. Except at bedtime once the whole bedtime routine has been completed and Mommy/Daddy is about to walk out the door.

3) I will always answer every question with "NO" and it is up to my parents to figure out when I really mean "yes" but say "no" anyway. And I will have a tantrum if they have trouble distinguishing between the two.

4) The middle of the floor and/or where people frequently walk is the best place to set up Legos, trains, blocks, etc. My creations are not to be moved. Ever.

5) I will never love the same food two days in a row. Except for Happy Meals. Good luck planning dinner.

6) I will always say "Mommy" (or "Daddy") 15 times in a row before getting to what I actually want to tell you.

7) When I say I have to tell you something, it's really important. I swear I'm not just stalling.

8) I will constantly surprise you with things you didn't know I knew how to do. Like using the key to open the front door and escape outside, or turning on Daddy's laptop and watching Thomas movies on You Tube.

9) Pants are optional. So is underwear. Actually, let's just make that all clothes in general.

10) Anything that I give you (random rocks, interesting sticks, this calcified piece of dog poop I just found) is a priceless treasure that you must keep forever.