Dan and Hannah and A Cool Yule Story

In a recent AARP magazine, I read about a giving tradition that Marlo Thomas and her husband Phil Donahue practiced with their grandchildren.  She is the outreach director for St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the world’s leading pediatric cancer research centers.  She has thought about how to develop a generous heart.

The couple gave each of their grandchildren $40 and told them to give it away.  They’d take time figuring out what really mattered to them,” she recalls. “It showed that money isn’t just something you spend on yourself.  It grew their gratitude.  That’s what you’re trying to do with children: grow their spirit.”

DD rawding family

Max, Molly, Owen, and Tip

So, considering inflation, we gave our grandsons Owen (6) and Max (4) fifty dollars to give away.  We wrote a check to their mom, our daughter Molly, and knew if anything was going to happen it was because Molly and her hubby Tip would come up with something.  And did they ever!

Arriving on the Wednesday before Christmas to look after our grandsons, Hannah and I see that Max has an envelope for his library yoga teacher.  The poetic note said…

DD poem

Similar to the envelope given to the library yoga teacher

The boys gave envelopes with two $5 Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards enclosed to Owen and Max’s teachers, the mail lady, a guy at Trader Joe’s that is always friendly and kind, both story time librarians, and the boys’ babysitter.

It’s just brilliant.  So, thank you Molly, Tip, Marlo, and Phil for planting these seeds

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Tolerance or Compassion?

Karen Armstrong writes in the Unity Magazine (Jan/Feb 2019),

Compassion symbol

       Tolerant is a word we should expunge from our vocabulary.  “To tolerate” means to put up with something.  It’s the language of the victor. Compassion is better because it puts you on the same level as others.  The truth is we simply can’t live without each other.

What do you think?  Your thoughts can inform us all.  Please comment in the space below.   Dan

Dan and Hannah and Give Kids The World

GKTW map to boston

York is ten miles north of Portsmouth, NH

Up at four this Saturday morning, by five Hannah and I head south on I-95 to Boston’s Logan Airport.  Arriving without delay, we soon pass through the TSA pre-check point for our 815 flight to Atlanta.  We are traveling in the Florence and Michael Hurricane-ravaged South to see family in North Carolina, play some rocking pickleball in Georgia, and visit the hometown of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, in Alabama.

While waiting for our Delta flight, I walk the wide airport corridors to pass time and work out the stiffness in my legs.  Walking toward the Dunkin Donuts, I notice a sea of green tee shirts.  Moving smoothly, but discreetly to check out the shirts, I am blown away to see they say Give Kids The World!

GKTW volunteers

Angels from Melrose, Mass

Give Kids The World is the Florida-based wish organization that provides accommodations and free passes to the theme parks in the Orlando area for families with kids with life-threatening illnesses.

These volunteers from a Baptist Church in Melrose, Mass are off to the GKTW Village to support these families for the coming week.  They will serve breakfasts and later dish ice cream at the on-campus Perkins Restaurant.

Instead of just concentrating on the kid with the serious illness, GKTW wisely attends to the entire family.  They make brothers, sisters, mom, and dad feel like royalty, too.  Families with a kid with a life-threatening illness can fracture if the needs of and attention to the other kids in the family are ignored.

GKTW symbol

How am I such an authority on Give Kids The World?  Why in 1988, Hannah and I with our three children, Will (4), Robyn (6), and Molly (8), were gifted a trip to Orlando to be tenderly cared for by Give Kids The World since Robyn was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of four.  Today she is a beautiful 37!

 

Dan and Hannah Win the Delta Lottery

In April 2017, Hannah and I agreed to be bumped from our 10A Delta flight from Atlanta to Richmond to another at 230P.  Being NASCAR weekend in Virginia’s capital, millions are heading to binge drinking, cars going aimlessly around in circles at ungodly speeds, and Southern fried sunburns; not NASCAR fans ourselves (what was your first clue?), we are heading for a Woo Girls Reunion in nearby Quinton, VA with three of Hannah’s College of Wooster classmates.  With the get-together to begin at 5P, we have plenty of time to wait out the delay and still arrive in time to pah-tay.

Delta D and H

Initially, we are offered $400 in Delta vouchers if we will wait for the 230P flight.  Seems like free money; we are all in.  When Delta can’t get the necessary seven volunteers to take the later flight, they up the ante to $800, then eventually $900 each, including us who agreed to take the $400 voucher!  The one restriction is that we must schedule our flights within the year.  Hardly a deal breaker!

Delta boston to atlanta flight

Four months later in August we fly to Atlanta from Boston for Hannah’s stem cell injections in an experimental procedure for her to regain the full use of her voice.  (By the way, the procedure was not successful.)

We find $110 round-trip flights for each of us.  If you are keeping score at home, we each still have $790 for flights in the coming year.

Returning to Atlanta for another treatment in October 2017, we fly from Boston with seats that cost twice as much at $220.  Even so, we still each have $570 to apply to future flights.

Delta boston to lax

Boston to Los Angeles and back

With plans to fly round-trip from Boston to Los Angeles for our month near Santa Barbara in February of 2018, we use our vouchers for two $349 Delta tickets.  Incredibly, after this third free flight, each of us still has $221 left for additional flights to schedule by April 2018.

Knowing we’ll be returning to California in 2019, we beat the April 2018 deadline and use our $221 vouchers for round-trip tickets from Boston to Los Angeles that pay for 70% of those $310 cross-country tickets.

So, let’s do the math; we score: (1) two free round-trip flights from Boston to Atlanta for both of us; (2) one fully paid cross country trip from Boston to Los Angeles for us two, and (3) 70% of one more cross-country trip to Los Angeles and back to Boston for each of us!

Our part of the bargain for these four free flights: waiting a mere four additional hours in Atlanta for our flight to Richmond.  As you will agree, Dan and Hannah won their version of the lottery.

 

Dan’s Lawnmower Doesn’t Work Again, But…

I have a long uneasy relationship with gas machines around the house.  I recently posted on my aversion to the evil leaf blower.  (Click here for that blog.)  We once had a behemoth snowblower for our 150′ driveway.  It proved on unwieldy so now we have Nolan who plows when we get a big storm.

But this is a story about a lawn mower that went down a dark rabbit hole until…  Well, let me explain.

Mower - itself

After two years of lawn mower neglect, this past spring I take my mower to Eldredge Repair for servicing.  Returning home and pulling on the cord, the engine sputters, and then conks out completely after thirty seconds.  Really!  I just paid a C note for the repair!  (i.e. $100)

Checking the gas tank, I find it low, but not unreasonably so.  Even so, hoping for a green lawn miracle, I drive down to the Irving Station for some gas, return home, pull the cord – La meme chose!  Nothing, as it runs weakly for 30 seconds, then conks out.

When in small engine need, I default to reaching out to my neighbors for support.

Ergo, I text Marco, a thirty-something who lives diagonally across the street.  Marco responds, Remove the gas cap and see if the engine runs better.  If it does, this signifies a plugged gas cap vent and is quite common.  If u need to borrow mine, you sure can. 

mower - cap off

Unscrewing the gas cap, I pull the cord once more, but it nonetheless sputters and dies.  Still, the interaction with Marco brightens my afternoon.

With Bob’s Jeep in the driveway across the road, I walk over, explain my situation, and ask if he has any ideas.  Suggesting that I spray the carburetor, he says I can borrow his spray if I want.  When he hands me the can, I admit that I have no idea where the carburetor is.  Before I can ask for his help, he offers to come over to take a look.

Bob sprays, I pull the cord, but it’s déjà vu all over again; the mower sputters and shuts down.

Mower - Shed and mower

Ever hopeful and obviously very naïve, thirty minutes later I give my mower one more tug.  Pulling in vain, I see Bob behind me wheeling his mower down our driveway; he says, you can use mine until you get yours fixed.  How cool is that!  I gladly accept and mow our backyard to my heart’s content.

With a non-compliant mower, the very next day I return it to Eldredge’s.  Two days later upon my return, the smiling mechanic greets me.  He says, when I heard that the mower died after 30 seconds, I knew exactly what the problem was.  I took out the biggest mouse nest I have seen all spring.  The nest was blocking the flywheel of your engine.

Why the repair guy didn’t notice the mouse house in my mower the first time is another matter.  Still, it was a good day thanks to Mickey and Minnie reconnecting me with Marco and Bob.

Dan, the Disappointer, or Is He? 

Precipice acadia map

The Precipice Trail is on the Park Loop Road (near the c in Cadillac)

You see, I’d made plans with a buddy of mine to hike the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park here in Maine in mid-September.  More than a hike, the Precipice Trail is really a stone wall climb up the side of a mountain.  Enjoy this engaging five minute video from Unboring Exploring (click here) to give you a feel of the rocky cliff we’d be climbing.

precipice cliff

As the hiking Wednesday approaches, the forecast is iffy.  Rain is in the forecast for the day before, which will continue til the following morning on our hiking appointment with verticality.  Despite the forecast, my buddy leans toward giving the climb a shot; wet conditions have never stopped him before.  Fresh in my mind is my recent August hike up the stone facade of Mount Major in New Hampshire after a serious rainfall the day before (click here for that blog).  Though the sun was out, my former Arizona State classmates and I found the stony mountainside a tad slippery.

precipice rungs

You see, the Precipice Climb requires the grasping of metal rungs in order to summit; in other places we’ll be hand-grabbing up stone faces and cliffside-trail walking.  Leery myself of climbing on wet surfaces, I text back and forth with mi amigo about weather conditions.  Eventually I conclude I want to postpone.  We reschedule for two weeks hence.

precipice wooden walk

Now, I am not a big fan of disappointing others.  Who is?  I like to come through, but plowing ahead when new information is available is not always the bright thing for me to do.  Once seduced into deferring to experts, I now trust my inner compass much more.  When I ignore my gut feelings, I find that I can lose my “self,” have my soul get lost in the shuffle of meeting the expectations of others.

I know I have choices that I can exercise (appropriate word choice consider the climb ahead).  In fact, my world and those I deal with is a better place when others know what I think and what I want, rather than having to guess.

And here’s the bottom line: I can make any decision be the best decision.  If I don’t look back, neither ruing nor regretting, I can put all my energy into making the decision epic.

Addendum – Though my buddy may be disappointed, I bet he got over it quickly and moved on.  What’s the pay off in pissing and moaning when someone honestly tells you how they feel?

Dan, the Oh So Bold  

With Hannah out for Labor Day morning breakfast in Massachusetts with our daughter Molly, I think this is the perfect morning to invite myself for coffee after working out at our Kittery (Maine) gym.

bold mug of coffee

I text our friends who live near the gym, Is this a good morning to invite myself for a 20 minute cup of coffee after working out at the gym?  Hannah is off with Molly for breakfast.

How bold!  I know.  I’m impressed, too.

While working out on the recumbent bike at the gym, I get a text that they’d love to, but they are running a 5K race at Pease (a Portsmouth, NH redeveloped air force base).  Oops, I forgot that this is an annual tradition of theirs to support a group home in nearby Rochester, New Hampshire.

bold road race

I text back, Enjoy your run.  It seems you’ll beat the intense heat of the day (86F hot and humid is the forecast).

But there are five side benefits to my boldness:

One, I can rightfully say I am at least a modest  risk taker.  If I want to think of myself as bold, I must act boldly.

Two, our friends know that someone would choose to hang out with them on this holiday morning.

Three, it could have worked out.  Never know until I try.

Four, perhaps, they’ll be equally emboldened to invite themselves to our place when the spirit moves them.

Five, my blog readers will know a little more about my love of morning coffee with friends.

Dan and His Dad’s Legacy

This mid-July afternoon reminded of another way my dad made his mark on my life.

Long ago, he taught me how to play tennis.  As a kid, I had a bet with him that I could beat him before I turned 16.  As a 15 year old I was better than he was, but I never could beat him.  When I turned 16 (and he was 47), I finally did win and never lost again.  But I left the five dollars on the table as a 15 year old.

blood cribbage board

A board to similar one my dad made out of the wood of a cherry tree

He taught me how to play cribbage as a kid.  Over the last ten years of his life (He lived til 94.), cribbage was the game that we played every time I visited my mom and dad’s place in New Jersey.  In his tenth decade, he was still teaching me the finer points of the game when we went mano y mano.

Today, Hannah and  I gave a pint of our finest blood down the road at the Lions Club in Kittery, Maine.  She for the 102nd  time and me for a respectable 63rd time.  Dad always gave blood.  He never told me that I should give blood, he just did, and I noticed.

blood american red cross

Giving pint of red liquid gold was especially joyful today because of the team of phlebotomists from the American Red Cross in Portland, Maine who tended to us.

These young folks, led by a woman named Tony, worked together as a team who loved their jobs and showed it.  Engaging, personal, and professional, Asa took my history and got the blood flowing.  Seamlessly, a young woman named Hannah came over and completed the blood collection process and put a band-aid on my arm.  Smiling and friendly, together, they all just lifted my spirits and added to the beauty of this summer afternoon on the coast of Maine.

blood blood itself

By the way, I asked the young Hannah if she liked her name growing up.  She said that she didn’t like being called Hannah Banana as a kid; but now [as an adult] she likes the nickname.  The Hannah you know and love from Chases Pond Road is the Hannah Banana in my life.

You never know what your kids will pick up from you.  Thanks, Dad.

Dan Demystifies the Colonoscopy Experience   Part 3 of 4

Recap from parts I and II – At the last minute before my scheduled colonoscopy, I was informed that my preferred gastroenterologist did not accept my Aetna Medicare Advantage plan.  I found an alternative doctor but wondered if he is as good.  I also wondered if my current Medicare Advantage health insurance would serve me in a health crises of major proportions.  Click here for Part 1 and click here for Part 2.

colon SMHCG

Four days before my colonoscopy (a Monday) – The colon prep instructions from Southern Maine Health Care Gastroenterology have not arrived.  It’s not a big deal since I have the previous instructions from Atlantic Digestive Specialists.  Basically, until my colonoscopy exam this Friday, I am to avoid corn, popcorn, foods with seeds, nuts, and raw vegetables

My usual air popcorn will be put on hold (Hannah never thinks eating that “cardboard” popcorn is palatable anyway.) and I’ll be breakfasting on the blandest of oatmeals since I must forego my blueberries, raisins, almonds, walnuts, and a trio of seeds – flax, sunflower, and chia.  Somehow, I’ll survive quite nicely.  You might be thinking, Dan you are my hero!  Or not.

colon picture of intestines

As Friday approaches, I think that my excellent previous exams of my colon do not preclude the possibility of less encouraging results this time.  People do get colon cancer and are in for the fight of their lives.  That said, it must count for something that I have had three clean results from previous colonoscopies when I was 50, 55, and 60.  Five years ago, I had a few polyps removed but such that it didn’t concern my gastroenterologist enough, so I was cleared to wait five years for my next exam.

Typically, colonoscopies are done every ten years, as Hannah has hers, if there is no family history (which I have since my dad, brother, and sister have had polyps) or previous polyps (which I have had).

I’m not worried, overly concerned, nor supremely confident either.  I look forward to finding out the state of my colon and then dealing with whatever happens.  Worrying about tomorrow steals the joy from today – Barbara Camerson

Three days before (Tuesday) – Not having food with seeds or nuts is really cramping my style.  My daily oatmeal is just mush without my fruit, nuts, and seeds.  I can’t lunch on my usual everything bagel either.  Then, there’s no afternoon popcorn.  Wa-wa-wa.  I just thought someone might care.  I am now aware no one does, and obviously life is pretty good if these are my issues.

colon doc john thompson

Dr. John Thompson

Two days before (Wednesday) – As my gastroenterologist Dr. John Thompson is new to me, I check him out online.  I learn he is 64 and has been in practice for 37 years.  I like experience when someone is probing with a scope through my large intestines.  He has board certifications in gastroenterology and internal medicine.  That checks two more boxes.  He completed a fellowship at Yale University School of Medicine, Gastroenterology.  I am always over-impressed with Ivy League schooling.  So that is a plus.

Day of Fasting the day before (Thursday) – I sleep poorly but am looking forward to the day of fasting to move this process forward.  (You see what I did!)  Let me remind you my colonoscopy prep begins in earnest at 2P today when I begin my first eight ounces of the GoLytely concoction.

colon golytely instructions

While in California, I had heard that the nasty taste of the GoLytely mix can be mitigated if I drink the liquid through a straw.  I’ll give it a shot, but I may just resort to chugging the eight ounces to get it over with.

Today’s diet includes black coffee and lime jello.  But the real action begins at 2P.  Literally!  (more colonoscopy humor).  The brew has been in the fridge overnight because that makes the drink more palatable cold.

Surprisingly, I’m not hungry after an early morning workout at Coastal Fitness gym.  Usually, breakfast is my favorite meal.  I love my bowl of fruit, often cantaloupe, sliced pears, tangerines, and pineapple.  That’s followed by two/thirds of a cup of oatmeal with nuts, seeds, and fruit.  Followed by a Hannah’s biscuit or two with decafe.  It’s true amore!

colon GoLytely jog

Ouch

But I know downing four liters of GoLytely this afternoon and evening is not going to be a piece of cake, perhaps more like a sonic boom.

In Part 4, my colonoscopy drama concludes with a play by play of the magic GoLytely and then the surgical operation itself.  Polyps?

 

 

Dan Demystifies the Colonoscopy Experience   Part 2 of 4

Recap of Part I – Five days before my colonoscopy exam, my Medicare insurance coverage has been denied.  I fortunately find an alternative gastroenterologist up the road in Kennebunk, Maine, but he needs my files faxed to them before he can operate.  Click here for Part 1.

The very next day after the denial of coverage (Friday).  I get a call from Southern Maine Health Care Gastroenterology (SMHCG) saying that my colonoscopy files have been faxed to their offices already!  What could have taken five days, takes one!  I’d be scum if I don’t call Kelly at Atlantic Digestive Specialists to thank her for expediting the delivery of my files.  Today, I am not scum.

Donna at SMHCG sets me up for a colonoscopy appointment for the very next Friday, in just seven days, only three days later than my original appointment!  I have been psyching up for nearly two months for one of the most preventable-of-cancer screenings – the colonoscopy.  Truth to be told, I am looking to get the damn thing over.  Sometimes you win, and sometimes you win unexpectedly.

Six days before the newly scheduled appointment (a Saturday) With this reset, I have time to think about the Aetna Medicare Advantage health insurance Hannah and I have.

colon aetna medicare

We have had two separate Medicare plans since we turned 65.  From 2013-2015 we had a high end AARP Medicare supplemental plan.  To save money because we have been quite healthy, we opted in 2016 for the Aetna Medicare Advantage plan, which we currently have.

Fact is, there are some sweet benefits to Medicare Advantage insurance.  We pay no monthly premium.  None.  We get a dental and optometry stipend for yearly check-ups.  We pay $5 for a doctor’s visit and $35 for a specialist within network.  Sounds pretty good, n’est-ce pas?

colon how medicare works

With this Aetna plan, Hannah paid $150 out of $4500 in bills from the ER at the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital after her fall off the San Ysidro Trail one year ago.  I paid something like $175 of my $14,000 bill from my overnight at York Hospital and subsequent myriad of tests after my recent episode of Transient Global Amnesia.

We cannot pay more than $6000 each for health care in any one calendar year.  And, let me remind you, we pay zero per month to Aetna.

colon social security

Let’s be clear, our Medicare is not free.  Everyone, no matter whether they have a supplemental plan or an advantage plan, pays the federal government something like $140 per month.  If you are on Social Security, as we are, that money is taken directly out of your monthly Social Security check.

There are limitations to a Medicare Advantage plan.  Though our primary care physicians at Kittery Family Practice and the local York Hospital are in-network, we have found that not all local specialists are in-network.  Two and a half years ago with Aetna Medicare Advantage, I found that the dermatologist I had previously used under a regular Medicare supplemental plan would not take my Aetna coverage.  Fortunately, another physician in her office at Northeast Dermatology did and successfully removed a small growth on my cheek.

colon SMHCG

Two days ago, I was informed that my preferred gastroenterologist did not take my Aetna Medicare coverage.  I found an in-network replacement here locally at Southern Maine Health Care Gastroenterology.  Is SMHCG as good as the doctor I wanted and that had been recommended by a trusted friend?

There is a more expensive alternative to Aetna Medicare Advantage – a Medicare supplemental plan.  This year the AARP Universal Healthcare Supplemental plan would cost us each $225 per month.  That’s more than $5400 for Hannah and me per year whereas Aetna Advantage is zero per month.

colon medicare supplemental

With a top end Medicare Supplemental plan like we had from 2013-2015, we did not need referrals from our primary care physician for specialists.  Basically, every health care provider loved seeing us coming.  I don’t remember a co-pay.  Our Plan F for supplemental insurance was the gold standard.  My previous colonoscopy with a doctor of my choosing was covered without a second thought or additional expense in 2013.

But here’s the bigger question as Hannah and I turn 70, how good would our coverage with Aetna Medicare Advantage be if we had something really serious – say a heart attack, cancer, something we don’t even know that might be going on in our bodies?  Would we be denied top medical providers that are available to others with a Medicare supplemental plan?

A young friend of ours had a breast cancer diagnosis.  She had the choice of Mass General or Dana Farber Cancer Institute, both world class hospitals in Boston, from which to choose for her cancer treatment.  Would I have such an option if I had a similar serious diagnosis?

Calling our Aetna customer service representative, I learn we would not have the choice of either of those hospitals.  Local is not worse, but why would I limit my options when elite hospitals are sixty miles away in Boston?

colon mass general

So, Hannah and I must decide, while we are currently quite healthy, if the extra expense of a Medicare supplemental plan is worth the additional $5400 cost per year.  If necessary, I would want the choice between Mass General and Dana Farber.  Wouldn’t you, if you could afford it?

Part 3 details my mindset and preparation as the colonoscopy draws nigh.