What the media won’t tell you about health insurance


At work, I’ve been in the middle of this day in and day out, and I realized it was time somebody told everyone else just what’s going on in the US in regards to health insurance.

Not only are premiums going up as a direct result of the Unaffordable Healthcare Act, but deductibles are going up.  Where medical deductibles used to be separate from prescription ones, now they are being rolled in together.

I realize this is a little abstract so I’ll give you a specific example.

A fairly well off man called me the day before yesterday.  He is diabetic, and wanted to know how much his insulin was going to cost for a three month supply.  “I paid for the most expensive plan so it should be about what I had last year,” he said confidently.

As gently as I could, I explained that his new plan still had a $3000 deductible.  I asked him how much he was putting into his Health Savings Account, where you put pre-tax dollars to help offset your higher costs.  “$33 a paycheck…” was the answer.  Barely a drop in the bucket.  And why not?  He was paying the highest premium after all, several hundred dollars a month.

“So how much will my insulin be before my deductible is met?”

I explained that Lantus is about $450 a box even at the negotiated rate, and since he uses 3 boxes a month, he’d be paying almost $1500 for just the first month.  This is the kind of time I really hate my job.  I know that with that dosage he can’t just go off his insulin, yet despite the fact that he’s working for a major company and making a fair amount, there’s no way he could afford it.

Obviously, that call didn’t end well.

Stories just like this are happening across the US.  They happened last year, they’re getting worse this year.  Sure, people can get a certain short list of preventive medications.  And they can get a small amount of free testing.

But they can’t afford the treatment!

Rekindle your Passions


Sometimes, when a person is being dragged down by nearly every aspect of life, they have to stop and really think about what they love.  At that moment, they have the opportunity to reconnect with the passions that used to drive them.  Not long ago, I found myself giving up on and turning away from nearly everything I ever loved, and nearly forgetting HOW to love at all.  Sure, I could like things, but it was always transitory and a little hollow. There was no incentive to try or do anything because the reward for success was so small.

One of the things I used to love, and am learning to love again, was flying.  I did quite a bit of it, but then my fear and social anxiety raised their ugly heads.   I wasn’t successful in getting my license, and later financial troubles took me away from flying altogether. This hurt a LOT.  Eventually I got tired of it hurting and started caring about it less.  When we give in to fear and pain as I did, we die inside.  Sure enough, I started caring less about other things too, like art. Art is the one thing I’ve loved since babyhood.  Then various disasters struck and I started running from my fear and pain there too… it was a decline that ate away at my joy.   Only now, coming out on the other side of it, can I see just how much.

I once started a flight diary. I lovingly described every detail of my aviation experience. I stopped when I quit flying. The question now remains, how do I want my story to end? In defeat, or victory?  A famous aviatrix once believed that success lay mostly in tenacity, in not giving up. I was very good at giving up. How about giving that up?  When I started this process, I wondered  “do I have what it takes to say ‘from where the sun now stands, I will give up no more, forever?’   I wasn’t sure if I did or not.

I started rereading some of my old favorite authors, did art about flight again, read AirNav to get a look at what’s in my area. I felt tension build inside me, fear mixed with happiness.  It was rocky and I still don’t have it down perfectly.  I have setbacks.  Still, overall, I felt more passion and joy reenter my life.  In essence, I re-found myself.

You can do this too.  Is there something you’ve given up because of fear or loss of hope?  You can have it back again.  Let’s feed the joy and let it outshine the fear.

Blog your way to a book

Blogging can be a great way to get enough material to turn into a book. I have seen people stitch short stories into a book, poetry, anecdotes about life, webcomics of course, and several other topics. The excellent blog and website “The Art of Manliness” has spun off into several books, all of which are truly excellent reading.

I’ve done this too. In fact, my novel “The Dice of Fate” was largely published on a blog, in its rough draft form, before I polished it and made it into a full length novel. The short format of the blog was accessible enough that I wasn’t daunted by the writing, and I found that I’d written the whole story, in little chunks, in just over a month. It took a couple of months to polish and much editing, of course, but it can be done.

Your blog will give you the most bookworthy material if it’s all centered around a theme. For instance, if I were going to turn this blog into a book, I might pick two or three of my categories. For instance, I might pick “life,” “life and love,” “life hacks,” and “randomness” if I were making a book about my thoughts and observations.

I might pick “art,” “art tips,” “writing,” and “publishing” if I were making a book about art and improving your work.

Making your blog entries into a book doesn’t mean you have to leave them as they are, either. You can go back and edit them, restate things in a better way, expand on points, and more. It can be a lot of fun seeing how you’ve grown, and giving your original thoughts the advantage of your increased knowledge and perspective!

Then, when you have everything polished, you can self publish as well as make your work available as an ebook. This kind of book is a natural for that.

Don’t forget to have someone else (or several someones) read your new book to make sure it’s interesting, topical, and flows well.

Happy blogging!

Guest Post: Herbal Preparation Methods

This post is by my friend, Andrew Johnson, who  is an herbalist, craftsman, father, and all around interesting person.

Throughout my herbal studies, I have come across countless methods of preparing herbal remedies (tinctures, decoctions and salves). Though there are some similarities and common do’s and don’ts, the methods vary quite widely. I have tried many of them and found the methods that work best for my purposes, but choosing a method or preparation can be very personal. Ranging from a sacred ritual, to carefree and circumstantial, to perfectly calculated and measured to the gram, to sparse and businesslike for maximum profit, to triple-steeped and jam-packed for maximum strength.

Many herbalists will give out the ingredients of their creations but giving out their method is like a security breach of trade secrets. As for myself, if a beginner asks me “how do I do this?” I often give a range of simple methods and say “whichever you are more comfortable with.” There are differences in strength with each method, but the method you want to use is dependent upon several personal factors:

Are you going to sell them?  If so, you have to consider many different variables, the largest of which is the use of common allergens.
How long do you want it to keep? If you want any sort of shelf life, alcohol (vodka or Everclear) is a common additive.  There are also certain plants that extend shelf life.

What tools are available to you?  Jars, fine strainers, and small scales are must-have tools.

When will you want the preparation to be complete?  Depending on the urgency for the required preparation you may not have the time for 80% of the methods.

What are you comfortable with?  Many recovering alcoholics hate even the thought of alcohol based products, as do some pregnant women.

Regardless of the method, label everything a LOT and be VERY detailed.


sweet sleep


Let us go over a few methods for preparing salves/creams/perfume-rubs:
Oil >> Olive oil is most common as it has a long shelf life and doesn’t clog the skin, though other oil can be used.

Wax >> pure or pharmaceutical-grade beeswax is best although some people also use paraffin wax or petroleum jelly. The common ratio for wax to oil is around 1:4 to 1:10, and some books I’v read even recommend 1:2. It really depends on how had you want it. 1:2 to 1:3 is good for lip balms and perfume rubs but are way too hard for salves. 1:6 to 1:8 is salve range, and anything 1:10 or above is an ointment (semi-liquid).

Herb >> The ratio of herb to oil also ranges widely, 1:5 to 1:8 is common though I’ve noted as little as 1:16, and as much as 1:1 (1:1 is rather difficult to pull off and usually requires multiple steeps). When we speak of herbal ratios we are talking about the total herb weight vs the volume of oil, so 1:8 would be one cup oil to one ounce herb. Powdered herb is not required but it makes the herbal oil much stronger.

Steep >> The are two categories of steeping. Heat or Time.  The Heat method, in my opinion, is not as strong as Time, but it does extract some properties/ability from the plant (anywhere from 50 – 100%).  Use a double boiler as to not burn the oil, and let sit in the heat for 2-48 hours (depending on the herb), stirring often and making sure the water doesn’t run out underneath.

Time>> The Time method is tried and true, but obviously takes time. Minimum steep is a week with the most common timeframe being 2 – 3 weeks. A select few steep for up to a year, but that’s rather excessive. A difference of opinion comes up when it comes to WHERE you steep it. Some swear by sun-steeping, gaining the advantages of both methods at once. Others say that the sunlight actually damages some of the chemicals, saying to place the jar in a pitch-black cabinet or closet for the duration of the steep.


I hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction to herbal preparation methods.  If anyone wishes to see what Andrew can do, or find what kind of products he makes for sale, they can visit Giant Tree Apothecary on Etsy.  There’s a whole section on herbal preparations.  I really love his muscle salve, it works like nothing else I’ve ever tried.  I’ve included a link if you click on the picture at the top of the blog.  By the way, he makes really sweet leather books, purses, dice bags, and even some interesting jewelry too.

The Class Every Artist Should Take

I would call this class “Studio Skills” and it would be a basic prerequisite for any art program.

You see, I managed to complete a four year art degree without knowing proper brush care, how to approach a gallery if I wanted to hang my work, or the best way to handle watercolor paper!  I realize that I didn’t get a painting degree, but it was Interdisciplinary Visual Arts and as such that assumes a basic grounding in several kinds of art. A class covering basic studio skills wasn’t even offered!  Would you believe that?  In order to learn those things, I would have had to take classes in each individual type of art to learn these kinds of things.

So here is my suggested curriculum, and this would be a basic course  offered to all art students.

A good Studio Skills course would include: Brush and tool care.  How to get the most out of your brush or other art tools.  How to properly sharpen art pencils, pastels, watercolor  pencils, etc.  It can be harder than it looks.

How to prepare materials.  How to stretch canvas, tape watercolor paper, gesso surfaces, etc.  Identification of paper sizes and types.

Studio care.  Cleaning and maintaining the art space.  Basic safety regarding hazardous materials.  Use of ventilation.

Recognition of art materials.  Brush sizing, canvas sizing, and tool uses can be confusing and people need to know about it. The opportunity to try different materials to see the difference would be appropriate here.

Presentation of your work.  How to prepare it for sale or display.

Marketing and promotion.  This would include how to talk to art studios and museums, best methods of contact, dos and don’ts for contacting other artists, and publication requirements.

Put simply, no art student should graduate with an art degree without knowing something about how to present their work to best effect, and no one should be allowed to graduate if they don’t even know how to market themselves.   Keep in mind that my nationally recognized university didn’t have anything even close to this.  Studio skills might have been taught piecemeal in the individual art classes but in many cases, it was assumed that you already knew this stuff.

If someone is in a computer art program, or sculpture, or ceramics, they could have a similar basic skills course. Much of it is universal to all artists. In fact, a basic skills course would be good to have in any field of study – too much basic knowledge is assumed by teachers and sometimes never acquired.

Want to try the materials I use?  Check out Dick Blick.com!

Unexpexted Lion Dance

There I was, shopping in my favorite international supermarket.

I was just getting out of the frozen foods section, laden with tasty gyoza and chicken breast. I was checking out the tea section and heading to the front when I heard the most tremendous sound – it was like ten people firing belt fed machine guns at once! The sound went on and on, and it was deafening.

So I stopped where I was, made sure I was near cover, oriented, saw no no one panicking and put two and two together. So that’s what the odd red rope had been! I’d seen it coiled up in a shopping cart and attached to the outside sign of the store as I’d entered. It was a rope of fireworks, for Chinese New Year!

Much comforted, but ears still ringing, I made my way to the front. I wished the nice cashier a happy new year over the noise, paid, and headed toward the entrance–only to find a lion dance starting at the front door!

What’s a baffled Westerner to do? Stop, get my cart out of the way, smile and enjoy it! So I did! They had drums, cymbals or something that sounded like them, a red lion and a gold lion both worked by people dancing underneath the costume, a whole group of youths to take over when they teams got tired, and two guys with masks who were fanning at the lions and chasing the bad luck away. Caught up in it all, I had an amazing time.

When I came home a little late I had a really good excuse: “delayed by lion dance.” What an amazing experience. I’m going back next year.


These pictures were taken of this years event, like the one at the beginning of the post.


Here’s one of two ropes of fireworks!Lion Dance firecrackers

Here’s the drummer, preparing to be really loud.

Lion Dance Drummer

Two lions, one red, one gold…

Two Lions

The aftermath, showing all the firecrackers that went off.

Lion Dance Aftermath

Happy Chinese New Year!

My love affair with Señor Jicama

It all started long ago, when I was little, and my parents kept making up all these funny words, like “gluten” and “hummus.”  My parents were creative!  One of those funny words I heard them say was “jicama.”  But I don’t recall ever trying any.  For years, I didn’t think about it much.  Then I moved to Arizona and learned that jicama was a funny looking brown tuber, sort of like a big round potato or turnip.  And it was always cheap, two pounds for a dollar usually. These days that’s a good price!

I asked around on the internet and found that jicama tastes a little like a water chestnut.

“I can eat a big water chestnut!” I thought. So I went to my local Food City, the place with the great deals and the good music from Mexico playing all the time. That’s  what the Food City in my area does all the time, anyway. I was wondering which one to buy when I had the bright idea to ask one of the friendly produce guys for advice.

“The rougher, the tougher,” he said, helping me select a couple nice, firm jicama. Then he asked how I was going to prepare it. I asked for suggestions. “Cut it up however you want, squeeze some lime, and then sprinkle on some taijin,” he said. “Do you like hot things?” I said I did, very much, and he told how they eat apples that way too in Mexico.

When I got home and tried it, I loved it! Paired with hummus dip, it was even better. It was indeed a bit like water chestnut, a bit like potato, but with a texture more like a crispy apple. The flavor is definitely enhanced by the lime, salt, and red pepper of the taijin powder. I also learned how to peel the jicama to avoid the possibility of belly ache. My
trusty ceramic vegetable peeler worked well, but the larger jicama were easier to peel by cutting off the top and removing the skin in big sheets, then cleaning up the last bits with the vegetable peeler.

I’m still seeing Señor Jicama and we are quite happy together.