Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Frugal Living ~ Direct Primary Care

We gave up on traditional health care insurance in 2016 by switching to Samaritan Ministries for myself and husband.  It was an easy decision for us because we paid $450 per month plus we saved $200 per month to cover routine doctor visits and at the end of the year we usually had $1,000 left over to put into savings. 

This year we had to add the kids on the Samaritan program when they lost MCHP.  I made a spreadsheet of four kids routine doctor/dental/eye doctor visits and it came out about equal to a bronze insurance plan offered through Maryland Health Connection but the deductible was so high that we'd end up paying more.

Samaritan Ministries wrote about Direct Primary Care in their January monthly newsletter.  DPC is a network of doctors who have decided to offer a flat monthly fee for routine and sick doctor visits.  There is no third party billing so the cost is lower than having traditional insurance.  We found a provider in our area, Franklin Family Medicine, and have spent the past two months getting integrated into their system.

We pay $70 per month for adults and $10 per month for each child.  They require at least one adult in the system to help defer the costs of offering such a low price for children.  I updated my spreadsheet and remarkably we are only paying $500 more than our total medical in 2018. 

Our constant goal with Frugal Living is to find a balance between living frugally and a quality of life that doesn't sacrifice family needs.  I feel so much better having found Franklin Family Medicine because now we don't need to ask ourselves, is this illness serious enough to pay urgent care or doctor visit of $200?  Our DPR has told us to call or text any time of the day or night if we have any serious issue, seriously, who does that anymore? 

In summary, we have Samaritan Ministries who will cover any illness or injury that exceeds $300.  We have the DPC for all routine and sick needs.  We pay out of pocket for dental and vision. Our estimated annual total is $10,498.00. 

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Duck Yoga at the Hagerstown City Park

I just love how ducks can stand so easily on one leg, every time I try it, I wobble and I'm fairly slim so they must have amazing balance.  I walked around this guy and he didn't budge.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Frugal Living ~ Pet Care

Is there no end to the things in our lives that we can reduce our cost on?  I don't think so.  This year we are tackling vet care.  We've used Petsmart for almost 18 years, this is partly due to the fact that my husband worked there for 10 years so I guess you might say we're brand loyal.  The last few years our pets have aged or we've gotten new ones, we've had to go more frequently and I've really started to chaff at their prices.

Three years ago we got a new dog named Penny and to get her spayed cost just over $1,000.00!  I was really confused by that and super frustrated.  Sadly she dog passed away from a fast moving cancer so we got another dog in the fall of 2017.  Scared from that experience I held off on neutering until he was over a year old and it became extremely necessary due to his behavior when walking.

First I started with a local clinic that never returned my calls.  Then I started calling vets in the area to get a range.  I was shocked at the wide range.  One vet quoted in the $300 range, and the other was $100 + shots of $20 each and he needed two shots.  Both significantly lower than Petsmart.

Today we needed to get our 18 year old cat to the vet as she stumbled while walking and her hip seems to be in bad shape on one side.  I called our new vet and they had an opening today at 4:30, they basically told us the same thing the Petsmart vet told us a year ago but also gave us a supplement to help her discomfort and shaved a matted spot that might be causing trouble, total bill $66.  The bill from Petsmart last year $196.74.

I'm so in love with our new vet!

I think vet care is something that I was reluctant to switch because our entire cats history is with Petsmart, we really like them and I guess I just assumed pet care was probably similar cost everywhere.  Boy was I wrong on that regard!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valentine Scones

This is the same recipe I've shared before, but with some minor changes. 

  • 3 cups self-rising flour
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup non-salted butter cold
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 teaspoon pink food coloring (I'm partial to the fuschia pink gel from Michaels)
Use a food processor to chop the white chocolate chips into tiny bits. Next, put one cup of flour into the same food processor with butter and pulse until combined.  I then move the mixture into a Kitchen Aid mixer and add remaining dry ingredients.  

Mix egg, vanilla, and buttermilk in a 1 cup container and add to the dry ingredients.

Add all ingredients together and mix on high until well blended.  It will be very thick, you may need to dig the mixture off the whip and then continue mixing to get everything blended.

On a floured surface, roll the dough 3/4" - 1" thick.  I used a small heart cutter for each scone.  I continue rolling until all dough is used up; there is no such thing as wasted dough in this house.  The last scone is usually hand balled and flattened into a scone patty, much like you would make a hamburger.

Place the cut scones onto a cookie sheet and bake for 14 minutes at 325.  


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

February - back to back snow days!

We've had crazy weather lately, the last week of January was 0 digits with school closed on the 31st due to the extreme weather, then it shot up to the 50's the first week of February, and now this week school was closed Monday - Tuesday for snow days!  Tomorrow's productivity will be wreaked by Valentines day parties, our school is off Friday's for home school day and next Monday they are off for Presidents Day.  I feel bad for the teachers who are trying to make progress.  It has to be daunting.  I personally would be fine with a full day of home school work on Friday to help make up the lost time, it seems they usually get done in a few hours.

Below photos are right after the freeze, we had some ice on the pond at the City Park and the birds were treating it as their own personal island.  

My poor dog begged for a walk but seemed rather sad about the ongoing snow, or he just really hates his coat.  

Friday, February 08, 2019

Back to Florida

I did a trip to Florida last week to get caught up with my colleagues at the home office since I work from home most of the year in Maryland.  It had been 14 months since my last trip, which is the longest stretch I've been apart from Florida in many years.

I wasn't able to visit the beach so I wandered around Coral Springs where I was staying and visited all our old haunts.  I went to the Barnes & Noble three times and didn't buy anything but took lots of notes, love B&N but not the prices.  

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed being in the company of my co-workers.  

I’ve heard my boss say this for years, we need to have face time with each other and with our clients.  I usually ignore him because it’s like listening to mom and dad give the same advice day in and day out, until you experience the gap in not spending time with someone, you might think it’s an overblown concept as well.  

Last year when I went to Asia in October, it had been 18 months since my last visit.  There had also been a large gap in seeing our biggest client of about 6 months. 

2018 was a hard year, my mom's husband passed away in April, we found, bought and moved into a house within 6 months and moved mom as well.  Along with our annual trip to Texas and packing, I don't see how we could have squeezed any work trips into that time frame.

I’m very thankful my job was understanding and not pushy, but when I did finally arrive at each location – Asia, client, Florida – I could see how my absence had created gaps.  It’s hard to explain but being in person with others creates comfort level that can’t be replicated in phone calls.  I will not admit this in person though, my boss will have to track down my blog to ever see that I might acknowledge he’s right in this case. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Jet Lag and Sickness

I don't get jet lag during my trips to Asia, somehow my body acclimates easily and I don't have any pain, headaches or nausea.   I take a sleep med to make sure I sleep through the night but otherwise I don't really have any issues.

The return is quite painful though.  Even if I sleep the entire night, I'm still exausted by 3pm and it's a struggle to get through the remainder of the day for the first week.  This time I got a severe sinus cold two days after getting home and I stayed in bed for two days straight.

As soon as I was feeling better enough to get back to a normal cleaning routine, my oldest got a stomach bug that kept her home from church on Sunday.  The next morning my husband got it and was out for the entire day!  I think I got in 2 hours of work that day as I had to do his job of taking care of the kids; so thankful it's Chinese New Year and almost no new projects or emails.

We've had some minor snow and a few two hour delays but overall our weather hasn't been too bad.  I'm just glad work is slow so I can keep up with all the illnesses, doctor's visits and minor school issues.

It's January, I guess it's all to be expected!

Friday, January 18, 2019

My Black Boot Experience in Hong Kong

It took some trial and error, but I finally figured out that only black stockings work well with my new black boots.  Once I worked this out, I was able to alternate each day with the two pairs I brought, while utilizing the laundry services at the hotel.  Amazingly they didn't hurt from one mile of walking with proper stockings.  I had been trying to wear leggings and thin socks but it was still too thick and caused extreme discomfort.

It was nice to dress well each day in my favorite skirts and black boots.  I work from home most of the year and while I don't work in my pajamas, I also don't get fully dressed like I'm going into the office.

To be honest, the weather was just a tad warm for boots, upper 60's, but I didn't care and wore them every day!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Weddings in Hong Kong - part 2

Today there were two weddings outside my window, the first I missed most of because of housekeeping.  By the time I got back, the wedding party were still taking photos and I thought to myself, perhaps they paid more because they were there for several hours and during the photo session, the hotel staff was not in a hurry to dismantle everything.  After the photos ended, the hotel staff removed the gold covers off the chairs, leaving silver covers.  This means there would be a 2nd wedding later in the day!  They had covered the chairs twice in the morning so as to not have to set up again for the 2nd wedding.  I love it!

Here is the precise detail of today's 2nd wedding:

5:00pm - groomsman spread flower petals for bride to walk on
5:10pm - wedding procession song (the only song of the entire ceremony)
best man and maid-of-honor give speech, all other bride maids and groomsmen stand behind the audience
5:14pm - vows and rings exchanged, kiss
5:18pm - sit and sign document, kiss again
5:24pm - champagne toast
5:27pm - wedding ceremony is over, guests standing to enter reception
5:33pm - photos continue while hotel staff remove silver chair covers and stack chairs
5:39pm - it's getting dark, entire wedding party appears to have moved indoors

My thoughts are, you really don't want to be late to a wedding in Hong Kong! 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Weddings in Hong Kong

I occasionally amuse myself by watching weddings from my hotel window in Hong Kong and they confound me every single time.  This is my 2nd wedding witnessed from this corner which looks down on an outdoor reception area and I really need someone to explain it to me because I'm really quite confused.

1.  almost no music, not even procession music, just one burst of sound to announce the start of the wedding and that's it
2.  there is almost no ceremony that I can see, unless you count the one minute speech given by one person as the bride and groom stand in front of a table and then they say their vows
3.  the bridesmaids stand at the back of the audience, with cell photos, taking photos, I guess with no ceremony there is nothing for them to do except wear a pretty dress and wait for their turn in the photo procession
4.  after the one minute speech, and the vows, the rest of the hour is spent with the entire audience lining up to take photos in various combinations.

From what I can tell, it's all about the photos.  And then, before the hour is even up, the hotel staff is busy stacking chairs while the photos are finishing up.

At the very end, everyone in the photo line up is making a claw with their hands and there are two people behind the wedding party in black workout clothing, jumping around and making claw hands.  They also appear to be supporting the photographer by posing everyone and occasionally stopping to drink a Starbucks that was left in what might presumably be the staging area.  I'm having a hard time connecting the jumpers as part of the wedding party as they are not interacting with the guests so I guess I'm confused as to why they were in the claw photo.

Before the wedding started there was a cake set out and a drink cart, then somewhere in the middle of everything, the cake and drink cart went back inside.  Were they only brought out for photos?  As props?

At the end of the hour the entire flower trellis is packed up and wheeled away, while photos are continuing, so there is almost no evidence of a wedding even left at this point.

I'm guessing the food is served inside and hopefully there are more decorations.

At some point the groom gets bored and wanders inside, leaving his beloved to take a few more photos with the bridesmaids, which completely confounds me because they are supposed to enter the reception area together and be introduced.  After a few minutes she wanders in with a hotel staff and her bridesmaids are left outside to continue taking photos and wasting the photographers time.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Back to Hong Kong ~ Jan 2019

Every January, the toy industry heads to Hong Kong where there is an international toy fair, but I'm not sure everyone even goes for that anymore, it's more a time to meet others in the industry and show product.  It's the first of 3 major fairs, next in Nuremberg in late January followed by the biggest one of the year in New York mid-February.  Thankfully I'm not in sales so I only have to do the Hong Kong trip and even more thankfully, this year our main client pushed the meeting to mid-January so I didn't have to leave the day after New Years!  Which, considering our recent health insurance debacle, I was glad to be stateside to resolve it.  Can you imagine getting a call while in Asia that health care has been canceled?  I go straight into China and work so my access to the world is extremely limited, no Google, Facebook, Twitter, I can't even schedule a Southwest flight! 

Preparation for these trips is two fold:
1.  Prepare family for my two week trip
2.  Pack for trip

Part 1 involves meal planning for the entire time I'm gone, along with a starter grocery list, doing all laundry, putting it away and all the cleaning I can possibly squeeze in.  This because I know, despite best efforts, keeping 4 kids happy and not killing each other requires the other parents full attention.

Part 2 is pretty routine, I have a travel wardrobe that is black, gray, pink and yellow, it all matches and I pack exactly one week of clothes where everything can mix and match.  It's taken years to compile and it can't have any holes or missing buttons or housekeeping will return with a note confirming I know it's there and won't clean it until I sign off on the item, that can be a hassle so this prep week involved sewing on several buttons at a furious pace while kids clamored for me to help them sew too!

I almost always do one carry on and one giant purse bag that sits on top of the carry on.  In winter this involves the dilemma of what to do with a coat.  I'm going through Chicago, what if I get stranded there, it has happened before, at least twice.  To get from international terminal to domestic one has to take a bus, so I elected to keep the coat and packed a flat tote that can easily hold the coat once I get off the flight.

This trip is only 12 days so hopefully it will go fast!  I believe this is my 24th trip in 18 years so it's all become rather routine at this point. 

Saturday, January 05, 2019

My Black Boot Obsession

This year I was determined to go to Hong Kong with a nice pair of black boots.  Our HK GM has a pair that she wears every January and she always looks so stylish, warm, and cozy.  The Asian girls know how to rock black stockings with a skirt and boots and I've been eyeing their style for years now.  All I needed was the perfect pair to transform my style into posh urban traveler. 

I started with and ordered a pair that was under $100, they have free returns, although I'm sure shipping is wrapped in there somehow.  They didn't fit so I returned them.

Next I spent over an hour at HSM trying on every black boot in my size, that's a very long time for a non-shopper.  I didn't find one pair and quite nearly ran us late for church as I wasn't watching the time, nor was I enjoying myself.  I thought perhaps it was the skirt I had on and that I just needed to wear one I'd be wearing in Hong Kong.

Or maybe I needed to spend more money on boots!  I'll wear them for 10+ years, every winter, every day, maybe I just need to spend more to get a nice fitting pair.  As a side note, I prefer Reebok shoes so my idea of comfort is a running shoe.  So I spent $300 on a Munro pair, I've worn this brand before and I can confirm they build a comfortable dress shoe, although my pairs were more around $100 range but with free returns why not try them.  They came a day later and did not fit, no zipper so I could barely get them on.  I'm not sure the hassle of running to the UPS store twice in one week is worth it.

Back to HSM with newly minted four year old in tow.  We spent the next hour on different aisles yelling "moma"?  "Evie?" to each other while I meticulously tried on more boots and she ran my phone data into the ground.

I finally found one that promised cloud soles.  Never mind the narrow toe area, I sized up 1/2" so it should all be good.  I got them home and tried them on with my entire Hong Kong wardrobe and they really do look magnificent, never mind the 1-2 miles I'll be walking in the airport, they have cloud soles!

Today, after .6 miles, accordingly to my phone app, I had to pack them into my carry on and switch to my Reeboks.  I hope I can still wear them for days when I don't have much walking, otherwise they've just made my bag much harder to close for nothing. 

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

We lost MCHP for the kids

This morning went off the rails right at 7am with a call from the doctor saying we were showing no coverage as of Jan. 1st, 2019 and how did we want to pay for today's visit for the four year old!

After a lengthy call with Maryland Health Connection I'm told we no longer qualify for MCHP.  There's no way to appeal even though research online shows we are well below the max income requirement for a 6 person household and the person I spoke to can only repeat like a robot "but the computer says you no longer qualify".

In November, I had to go in and make an address change from our recent move, and I updated our income slightly but not enough to go beyond the stated max for a family of 6, but we think that because we've separated ourselves as parents to go through a non-insurance route, and only had 4 kids in the program, maybe they couldn't count us as a family of six. 

We are still within a 90 day window to apply for a QHP (qualified health plan) so I made a chart to compare their lowest plan VS putting all the kids on Samaritan Ministries.

It breaks down like this:

I'll miss that $68 MCHP plan that covered everything and it sure was a blessing to have it for four years, but we'll also be fine with Samaritan Ministries.  It's amazing how this blow waited to happen until right after we had paid off ALL debt (except our mortgage).  One year ago it would have been more devastating.  Our montly impact is approximately $250 per month which was a car payment last year.

It forced me to dig deep and make sure Samaritan Ministries is really the right plan for our entire family, I called the kids doctor/dentist/vision offices to get a better understanding of cash payment prices and I even called Samaritan to better understand sharable bills.  It turns out that anything dealing with a sickness over $300 is generally sharable.  This helped me to budget $200 per child as they seem to each get sick enough once per year to visit the doctor.  I haven't included prescriptions yet as I'd need to update those on a case by case basis but they are generally paid out of pocket.

I called the ortho pediatric office and they said no insurance will even cover the kids for braces until they have all baby teeth gone, so for this reason I decided to not put the kids on a dental plan for the next 2 years.

Samaritan Ministries covers broken teeth from accidents (not from eating), and any bone surgeries but they consider most dental care outside their list of covered issues.

It's unexpected, but we'll be fine.