Thursday, February 28, 2013

What's In My Netflix Queue? A Movie Review: Bernie

Bernie (2011) Poster
(source: IMDd)
Bernie tells the story of an assistant funeral home director in the small town of Carthage, Texas. This film is based on the true story of Bernie Tiede (played by Jack Black), a mortician who befriended a very wealthy, elderly widow (Shirley MacLaine) after the death of her husband, then later, shot her to death. According to the movie, she was a very nasty woman and he was the most liked man in his town. So liked, in fact, the district attorney (played by Matthew McConaughey) had to have his trial moved to a different county so as not to have any of his peers on the jury, as they'd all admitted that if they were on the jury, Bernie would not be convicted of anything.
I'd heard this movie was very good by several people and I read it received 91% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, but I hadn't taken the time to find out anything specific about the movie beforehand and I am very glad I didn't. This movie surprised me. I heard it was really funny, and while there were traces of humor in it, it wasn't the kind of humor you would expect from someone like Jack Black. The movie included interviews from the actual townspeople of Carthage, which was really the humorous part of the movie. For anyone from Texas, and especially anyone who has visited or lived in East Texas, you will hear expressions like "She was borned all pruned up," talking about Ms. Nugent's face when she was born, meaning that even as a baby, she looked mad and angry. Or, when they were discussing Bernie's sexual orientation and saying things like "he is light in the loafers." Now imagine it with a great East Texas accent and by colorful townspeople, and the movie has captured East Texas to a tee. One especially funny part of the movie was one townsperson's description of Texas, referring to the fact that Texas is really five countries, Austin being one with "hairy legged women," and the Panhandle with no personality whatsoever, since no one really knows what goes on up there.
The real treat of this movie comes from Black's performance. I really do love watching him, he is a likeable actor, but he has a tendency to play up his cuteness a bit too much for my taste in many films. In Bernie, he was very convincing as a possibly gay, but 100% Christian man who cared for others, directed town musicals, donated items to charities and people when they needed it, led the worship in his church service, and overall, just a very nice man. I really don't know much about the real Bernie, his mannerisms, or how he spoke, but I do know that the character Black created was incredibly likeable and convincing.
As the movie goes on, it is revealed that Ms. Nugent's character, played by Shirley MacClaine, was an incredible difficult, nasty woman who no one in the town liked very much, including her own family. So imagine MacClaine in Steel Magnolias, Terms of get my drift. Her performance was nothing we've never seen before, as I've seen this particular character several times for her in her acting past. Bernie befriended her as he did with everyone, and for whatever reason, she took a liking to him, and began buying him things and taking him on expensive trips around the world. She even went so far as to put him in her will, bequeething all of her estate to him, including making him power of attorney. We never get the sense that Bernie has instigated this in any way, except with we hear from the DA, Denny Buck, played by Matthew McConaughey. In fact, we get the feeling that she did it as a way of guilting him into spending more time with him, all of his time, actually. She even convinced him to work for her full time as a maid, a chauffer, and general errand boy, which he did gladly in the beginning, but slowly led him into resenting and hating her, causing him one day to shoot her in the back four times while in her garage. After doing so, he immediately prays for forgiveness, then hides her body in the freezer and goes on about his life, never telling anyone she is dead. In fact, the nine months she spent in the freezer, he further cemented his reputation as the nicest, most liked person in town by investing in failing businesses, donating a prayer wing to the church, and giving away money and several items to townspeople in need, all with her money. Denny Buck is convinced he is a gold-diggar and a cold-blooded murderer, but no amount of speaking to the townspeople will convince them otherwise. All in all, Matt's performance was fine, nothing to write home about, just Matt being Matt in an uglier outfit. I wished I liked him more, I really do. Sigh.
Honestly, I think the reason I enjoyed this movie as much as I did was because I love this genre. This was not a mockumentary, as it was based on a true story, and the interviews were with actual townspeople, not characters. With that said, if you've ever seen movies like Drop Dead Gorgeous or Best In Show, which I have and I love, you could easily see how these townspeople could end up looking like those movies, a caricature of themselves, and they never do. You could also see how Black could have overdone his role so much that his character stopped behaving as a true person and started behaving as a caricature as well. In fact, with the amount of singing Black does in this movie, and there is alot, and the amount of old gospel hymms that are featured, including a local theater rendition of 76 Tromobones, Black could have easily taken this character to the extreme. But he doesn't. His perfomance was easy-going and surprising.
All in all, I'd say this movie is very good and worth an hour and a half of your time, especially if you enjoy dark humour movies. Oh, and be on the lookout for Matt's real life mom, an actual resident of Longview. She is the blonde that is sitting next to him in the diner, I thought that was a nice touch.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

Our family had a great day today.
And it's all because of his hard work...
And I am very glad I get to spend the good times with him by my side.
For one year...
Two years...
And coming up on three years..
It's a good ride, good times and bad. I am glad God is in control and not me. I never would have imagined how things would have turned out otherwise.
Feeling blessed!

What Do Marissa Mayer's Decisions and Life Style Mean For the Rest of Us

I have not been a fan of Marissa Mayer from the beginning. I have no idea what she is doing to Yahoo and I don't care much about her business choices as a CEO. But as a woman, I think she is a traitor and to some, a hypocrite.
When she was five months pregnant, she took the job as the CEO of the powerful company. Some would say that is a step in the right direction for women's rights. Others would say, what were you thinking? Then, she decided to take only two weeks off maternity leave, which was completely ridiculous to me. It is also very indicative of where her loyalties and interests lie, and it's not with the working mommy. This week, I read an article that she has decided that all telecommuters working from home at Yahoo will begin working from the office, which has been met with criticism and anger, and she is even been referred to by as "CEO of the year 1955."
Mayer was picked for this position carefully and on purpose. No company in their right mind would appoint a 5 month old pregnant woman as their brand new CEO, no matter how much they've accomplished, without an alternative agenda. In my opinion, they have several: 1) "Marissa Mayer is the poster child for what a woman CAN accomplish, if she sacrifices her life and well-being and gets 'better' at balancing her priorities." 2) "If this woman can deal with having a baby and coming back to work two weeks later, than all women can." 3) "We need a woman with a newborn to be the bad guy for our plans for the company, because if it's coming from her mouth, people won't be as angry."
And you know what? She is more than willing to play that part because this is a woman who very clearly wants to be the best and will do what it takes to make that happen, even completely ignore the position she could be in to make a difference in women's issues and workplace obstacles. She loves being the woman in charge. Women bosses like her always do. I've worked for several women bosses in my day. And there is only one that comes to mind as one I would actually work for again. If you are reading this, you know who you are. (insert winky face here) I have only had one woman boss who cared more about me and who wanted to help me rather than be horribly mean and ugly to me. While they all taught me alot about being successful at my job as a woman, they simultaneously taught me alot about how not to be a woman anyone liked or wanted to work hard for. I hate to say it, but women bosses like Mayer are the antithesis of what employees want because they care nothing about the employees and care more about the accolades they are receiving from all the men on the board.
I already think it's an embarassment, the thing we call "maternity leave" in this country. Six weeks is non-sense in my opinion, when other coutries, like France, greatly value home life and offer much more flexibility, not just with maternity leave but childcare help as a whole. And according to, "France has a high proportion of mothers in the work force compared to other countries." Hmm. Imagine that, we give women and families the flexibility and help necessary in the early part of children's lives and woman actually want to work more and work harder? Not in the US, though. We appoint this yahoo (pardon the pun) to be the example of what a working mother should be.
Oh, did I mention that Mayer built a $5 million nursery attached to her office? Now, if that isn't the most hypocritical thing I've ever heard. I am hoping she understands how horribly this comes off to her employees and installs a work-place daycare area so other moms of young children can bring them, too. Or is she the only one that needs to benefits from this because she is the CEO? Oh, and coincidentally enough, I searched but could not find a news article on Yahoo regarding this topic. Imagine that.
What do you think of Marissa Mayer? Is she a visionairy for mother's and employee's rights or is she bringing us back to the 50's with her ideas?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Where Have All The Princesses Gone?

You will find them at my daughter's daycare!

For the first time ever, my daughter's babysitter says she has no boys, they all grew up and now, it's just all girls, all the time!
When I drop her off, I usually see them all getting on their pretty dresses to play. Jenn said yesterday they were just all at each other's throats and weren't getting along at all, which sure, all girls=drama, drama, drama. But I love that she gets to do this all day long. Every time I think about moving her to a daycare which has more structure and learning curriculum, I think, she's two! There will be plenty of time for that. She knows how to count to 15, she knows her ABCs, she knows some colors and shapes, she knows how to color, she's potty trained and speaks really well. I think for only being 27 months, she is doing really well. She needs to just play as long as she can in her young years!
Speaking of Avery, we are working on now the names of people in our family. We quiz her constantly. "What's mommy's name?" and since she has always called Jordan "bubba" and Sophia "sissy" we always ask her what their names are. We will also say, "Who is Colbi's mommy?" stuff like that. We will also ask her what is her last name and her whole name and she can sometimes tell you.
Avery is getting into the "no" phase and throwing herself down or going limp when she doesn't want to do stuff. Just tantrums. I try to just ignore them and just correct her behavior. Most of the time, a good stern look in the eye and saying, "You do not tell Mommy no" does the trick. We try spankings, but she's the kid who we will say, "do you want a spanking?" and she will turn her toushy around and say "yes..." so, that's not really a punishment. Timeouts are what she hates the most, but most of the time, I just tell her that what she is doing is not acceptable and that does the trick. Or, if she is whining that I won't do what she wants until I am asked in a big girl voice and nicely. I don't know, she pushes our boundaries for sure but she is supposed else is she going to know what the rules are?
At night now, she loves to be rocked. When I turn the lights off, she ALWAYS says, "You rock me a minute?" and we rock and sing. She has to be covered up and if one little space is not covered, she makes me fix it until she is all snuggly and warm. It's what she likes and right after that, she goes right to sleep. Last night, she fell out of her bed at about 3 am and I hear loud crying and she comes to our room and I hug her, poor thing! I mean, the bed is only about 6 inches off the floor, but what a surprise when you are asleep! She's been that bed almost 2 months and this is the first time that's happened.
Have a great day everyone!

Monday, February 25, 2013

How Much Money Do You Think Your Kids Think You Make?

I was thinking today about money. And I was thinking about kids and money. When Jason and I were first married, we were broke. I mean, poor, broke. He had lost his job and I was making nothing, so we were struggling to pay the essentials, and even that was hard. I am talking grocery budget of $50 a week broke, including toiletries and dog food. I am talking, no cable no internet broke. Not discretionary income broke - what, what's discretionary income mean broke?
When you have no money, all you think about is having no money. We thought about having no money constantly. Every time a friend invites you out, you have to decline. Every time someone's kid at work wants you to buy cookies for a fund raiser, you have to decline. At the time, we were spending money on gas and driving sometimes 4 times roundtrip 40 miles to get the kids, take them to soccer games, back home. I remember once driving home, almost on "E" before we'd had Avery, praying that we would make it because we didn't get paid until the next day and I hoped to God we didn't run out of gas. I am telling you guys, it was very depressing and not fun.
I can share this with you now because God has blessed us both with better jobs, so no, we aren't throwing money off the rooftops or anything, but it's not nearly like it used to be. At the time, the kids' mom had married a man who took great care of her. She was able to quit her job and they moved to a beautiful house. The kids were going out to eat all the time, or at least, that's what we gathered when they would mention stuff like their favorite dish from Benny Hanna's. Look, I am not broke now and I don't eat at Benny Hanna's, so that was a hard pill to swallow, as we were struggling so much, that so much of our income was going to child support and they were taking the kids out to eat at nice places on a regular basis. I was very upset about this for several months. And I was very upset every time the kids brought stuff up about doing something or buying them something. You know, kids don't need to know how much you are struggling all the time. They are children and deserve a childhood, to a certain extent. But at the time, I never allowed Jason to talk about money with them, mainly because of my pride. I didn't want it getting back to their mom how bad off it was. I don't know what I was thinking we were hiding, we were living in a 3 bedroom apartment and it wasn't like the kids were coming back to her, regaling her with stories of shopping sprees or anything.
In fact, one of the worst mornings happened on the way to church. I think we had Avery then, but we were talking about lunch after church. We decided that we could go to McDs but everyone would be ordering off the dollar menu. Jordan was 8 at the time, I think... but he said to us, "We never go out to eat anywhere at your house and we always have to order off the dollar menu." The way he said it, he should have had his mouth washed out, but for some reason, I just broke out into tears. I barely had clothes that fit, we barely had money to even go to McDs, which was a treat for us, and for him to say that just broke my heart. I sat outside church and cried and prayed because I didn't understand why it was like this for us. Afterwards, Jason has a long conversation with him and he apologized to me, but I was so sad.
I never liked to use the term "can't afford it." They didn't know, but I knew, that it wasn't like we chose not to spend our money on going out to eat, I just knew in my head that I was saying we can't afford it because it's either going out to eat or gas for our cars, you know? Now that things are better, the weird thing is that I don't mind telling them "we are not spending $100 on an American Girl doll. It's ridiculous to spend that much money on something you barely play with." I say that now because I could buy her a doll, you know? It's like, it's my choice not to buy you a ridiculously extravagent luxury, not that I can't, it's that I won't.
So now, when the kids ask for stuff, it doesn't bother to me to joke about stuff or to mention things about money. I know why all of those phrases from our parents like "money doesn't grow on trees," "close the door, we are not paying to cool off the whole neighborhood" was just a nice way of saying, "Hey you little money-sucker, we aren't millionaires, stop wasting my money!" I love it when Jordan says "It's only $10!" and I am like, "Do YOU have $10? When you have $10 to spend, you are more than welcome to buy whatever you want."
In your house, what do your kids know about your financial situation? Do you shield them from those conversations or do you talk to them about it?

Wait and See...

There are some really amazing things happening in our lives, mainly Jason's life, that we will find out about in the next couple weeks. We've known about these things for a while now, so it's been a true test in patience to relax about them and just "wait and see" how they pan out.
There have been lots of things in my life that have been a "wait and see" type of thing. We always want to speed up the process, but God is like, "Hold your horses there, missy. Just wait and see what I have for you..."
In fact, every major thing to happen in my life, in the last 4 years especially, has been something I've had to wait for. I waited for Jason for a long time, I waited to have a family, I waited to find the right job, I waited to find a great house, and all of those things worked out exactly as they were meant to. So, when it comes to God's timing on things, I never question it anymore. If there is something not happening fast enough for my taste, it just means that either now is not the right time or it's not the right thing at all, and God usually shows me something better.
I feel like in order to have full faith in God's timing, you really need to be in tune with God's plan for your life. It's not always easy. Sometimes, situations are presented to you that are tempting but there is a little voice inside of you that says, "this isn't right, don't do this!" A true example of this is several months back, Jason and I were living in that rent house that was a bit small. We were very ready to get into a home that was larger for our family, like, REALLY ready. We would look constantly at websites, drive around to find "for rent" signs, just to find something that would be suitable. We got really close once with a house that a friend was looking to rent out. Now granted, this is after we had toured the house we are currently living in and all houses we looked at didn't compare at all to this one, so maybe we just have a skewed opinion, but when we saw the house, there were things we really liked and things we didn't like. They wanted about $400 a month more in rent than what we were currently paying and they wanted a decision and move in within 30 days, so it was going to have to be really quick. We agonized over this decision for a couple of days. It was so tempting, a newer house in a nicer neighborhood was what we were looking for. But after talking about it with each other, we realized that there was just something about it that didn't seem right. And it was kind of discouraging because we were so ready to move, and this was a way to do it, but it didn't work out. And boy, I am glad it didn't because we would have missed this house had we said yes! 
There are a few things about our future that are kind of hindering upon whether or not these things work out. So, instead of making rash decisions about these things, I often have to tell myself, "Jenna, just be patient. You know this will work out, and may even work out better than you think, so just hold on." So much easier said than done. Just be thinking about Jason this week and sending up some prayers for him. I know he is very anxious and excited, so pray for peace! I will keep you posted!

Oscar Night Recap

I, for one, greatly enjoyed this year's Academy Awards! When I heard Seth Macfarlane was the host I said, this could go really well or really badly, and it will be totally up to how Seth wants to take this that decides how it will be. Well, I have to say that I thought he did a really great job. He really didn't just skewer the audience, and when he did, the actors seemed to be in on the joke, as was evidenced in the "Boob Song." Which was, quite hilarious. I also knew that Seth was a tremendous musician and even came out with a jazz CD, but I didn't know he could sing so well. The numbers that included Channing Tatum, Charlize Theron, Jordan Gordan Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe were such a wonderful surprise. And how about the music this year! Tremendous.
And I am sorry, be he is absolutely adorable.
But we realized that he does share a striking resemblence to a certain Brady son...
They could seriously be father and son.
Anyway, I am SO excited that Argo won this year. I mean, it was the only movie I'd actually seen, that was good. But it's a really good movie. If you haven't seen it, it's worth your time.
And how cute was Ben Affleck's acceptance speech?
Best Dressed of the Night...
Charlize was absolutely stunning!!
Worst everything of the night...
We get it, Kristen. You are too cool for awards shows. You don't care to fix your hair. You don't want to be bothered to stand up straight while one stage. You look like a unpopular kid in high school, begrudgingly accepted by the popular kids but not wanting to be there the whole time. Grow up. Look like an adult. Stand up straight. Fix your hair. Gees!
Best Speech of the Night...
What a classy, classy guy.
Worst Speech of the Night...
I love her. I really do. I think she is as cute as a bug with that hair. But I am glad the awards season is over, because if I had to hear her make one more speech I was just going to have a fit.
Best Surprise Moment of the Night..
What good sports to come out and do that. I really thought Charlize took herself too seriously to come out and do a campy number like that, but apparently I was wrong.
Worst Surprise Moment of the Night...
I am sorry, but what was this about? And what was with the speech? I for one think that stuff like this, celebrity shows that serve no political purpose whatsoever, are for after your family leaves office. NOT for us to see that this is how you are spending your time and our tax payers money on a new dress for the occasion (although, I am pretty sure this was sent to her by some designer). After he is done, you present all of the Academy Awards you want. But right now, being on this show should be the least thing on your mind, no matter how fun it may seem.
This dress is from WHERE?
Did you know that this dress is from H&M? Just sayin. That's cool.
Coolest Couples on the Red Carpet...
There are several! But these are my top four.
How proud did he look of her?
I just love Stacy and George and I love that she always always looks like she is having so much fun!
I don't know why...maybe because his wife looks normal and he loves her so much?
And oh my goodness, I love these people so much too...Ben and Jenn are just awesome.
So, a funny story in our family. My dad USED to watch this show. That is, until travesty struck. He has never forgiven the Academy, and has boycotted the awards when THIS movie...
beat out THIS movie.
I mean, he is right. They get it wrong sometimes, don't they? I mean, you nominated the BEST PICTURE movie but not the DIRECTOR. Morons. Who won? Now I can't even remember. Oh yeah. Ang Lee. Poor Spielburg.
Have a great night everyone!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

2nd Annual All Girl Slumber Part-tay!

A few weeks ago, I had a few of my friends over to my house and spend the night, kid and husband free. It was so much fun and last night, Kate continued the fun with Slumber Part, Part Deux. I think we just started a tradition, folks!
I didn't take any pictures. We didn't want any of the night to "escape." But, we did take this one and I love it...
The picture on the bottom is 3 single girls, pre-wedding, pre-baby. 10 years ago, on a night out in Downtown Fort Worth. The one on the top is last night. I gotta tell you, not much has changed and I think we still look fantastic!
I love my girls!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Shopping With Gigi

While Jason and dad went to play golf, us girls spent the morning shopping!

She loved this horse, she kept saying, "Ride em' cobwoy!"
We also had lunch at Mimi's Cafe and it was might tasty, if I do say so myself!
Gigi shared her ice cream with Avery and I think Avery was very appreciative!

Now, I am off to get ready for my adult girls' sleepover at Kate's, I am so excited!


Friday, February 22, 2013

Church Lessons This Week and Trek Recap: Why Does God Love Evil People?

For those of you who don't know, Jason and I are involved at our church with kids. I am the teacher of our 1st and 2nd grade Sunday school class, and both Jason and I are leaders on our Wednesday night Trek group, which is the continued Awanas program for the middle schoolers.

We love being leaders, but sometimes it's hard because we feel like we miss out on connections with other adults in Sunday school and that we miss out on more intellectual lessons for our age group. Last semester, the entire Trek unit was focused on Moses and the Israelites. Then, in Sunday school, we started on the same unit, so I feel like I've been learning and talking about wandering for 40 years in the desert for months now! (not that it's not an incredibly important lesson, but still!) So I was very excited with our new unit we started in Trek for this semester. All of the lessons are focused on philosophical questions and answers, like "Where did God come from?" It's hard for me sometimes to not get into discussion with our wonderful leader Grant, since he is so knowledgable about these things and I know I don't want to ask questions that are above 12 year old's heads. But it's a breath of fresh air to start focusing on lessons that I can really get in to.

Wednesday, the question of the night was "Why does God allow evil to exist? Why does God still love evil people?" Grant did such a great job setting up the discussions for this one. We had a celebrity "auction," where the kids could bid on items (you know, just pictures of the items) but it was stuff like, The First Edition published manuscript of Romeo and Juliet, a 2014 Dodge Viper, a 1794 silver dollar, stuff like that. He gave the kids each $50,000 in fake money, and allowed them to view all items for a minute before we started the bidding. It was interesting because each of them had picked out the item that they wanted beforehand and each one wanted something different (except for the Viper, which several of them wanted, along with a 30 minute shopping spree in an Apple store). When we were done, we talked about value we place on items. Turned out, the item that was most valuable in terms of resale was the coin, which was $8 million, which no one bid on, by the way. He talked about sin, the origins of sin in Genesis, and value God places on sins and sin.

To answer the above question, about why does evil exist and how can God love evil people, it's actually a pretty simple answer. So, we all know Eve ate the apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and gave it to Adam, the one fruit God asked them not to eat from. Well, He knew what He was doing. I mean, He put that tree there in the first place, because that tree did something very important: it gave us a choice. We are not robots, we are humans with the ability to follow God and do what He asks or to do the opposite. The choice is the important part, we have the ability to choose. And we are all evil, or have evil tendencies. To not love one evil-doer is to not love us all, and we all know God loves us above all else.

So, to continue, this lesson was very fascinating to me, because it's something I've always understood. God doesn't differenciate between individual sins. We, as humans, place severity on sins on our own, like, murder is terrible, but lying isn't so bad. We have a tendency to really focus on the ones we find most offensive, like abortion, because to us, it's the worst. But God doesn't. How could He?

Grant made a point that I thought was very poignant - there is a big difference between SIN and SINS. Sin is anything we do that seperates us from God. Sins are the individual sins we commit. God sees SIN, not SINS. And that's ANY sin, not just the "severe" ones. Another thing he had us do was rate sins he gave us on a piece of paper in level of severity. He had them grouped into two categories, sins of commission (sins we commit like lying and adultery) and sins of omission (sins we commit by not doing what Jesus has commissioned us to do). You don't often think of not telling people about Jesus as a sin, or not helping the needy as a sin. But in the Old Testament, God gave us the Ten Commandments, things which NOT to do, and in the New Testament, Jesus expanded on those things with things TO do. We don't usually think that by not doing what Jesus asked of us as a sin, but it is. This was a huge conviction for me, as I am sitting there listening to this lesson.

In church on Sunday, our pastor spoke of the Great Commission ("Go ye therefore and teach all nations...") and we talked about missionaries. He told us we are all missionaries, as it's all of our job to tell the world about Jesus. It's not our place to pick and choose who gets into heaven, is it? And I know I do that. I know I have a fear of telling people sometimes what I know to be true. And I sometimes think it's easier when you are on a mission trip, to tell strangers about Jesus when that's the whole reason you are on the trip in the first place. Often times, it's people we know, that we like, that we don't to offend with our words that we tend to not talk about it to the most. I struggle with this alot; I believe in everyone's right to choose their own life and their own beliefs, so I don't want to cram my beliefts down their throats. This week, I've stopped and said, "Jenna, what are you doing?  The only belief is the one in God, why are you being silent? Especially when God is in control of all things and when He is for you, who can stand against you?" It's almost like when I don't speak out on what I know to be true, I am telling God not only do I not trust Him, but I am limiting His power in my head, that He is not big enough to handle this with me.

I think the sins of ommission this week are what really got me. When God really said, "Jenna, I am speaking to you right now, you realize that, right?" I am going to do better about this. I hear God alot, and I trust Him. Now, I need to do the things that might be harder for me, but that I know He wants from me. Sometimes easier said than done.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My $61,000 Hospital Bill - A Follow Up

In a follow up post to this one about my $61,000 one night stay in the hospital for strep throat and a sinus infection, I thought I would let you know how it turned out...
Ok, so I posted about this originally on August 28 of last year, and I was in the hospital at the end of July. It wasn't until November 20 that I received this from my insurance provider.

Well, of course I was livid, but again, I knew that I would never have to pay $59,799. So, I waited another month and half before receiving my final hospital bill, at the end of December. It stated that my insurance provider had paid $58,000, and I was reponsible for the final $3,000. Now that I had all of my bills, I could do what I originally wanted to do and contact a hospital bill advocacy group. Namely, I contacted Medical Billing Advocates of America and spoke with Brett, who was totally and completely convinced that this was ridiculous and we could definitely get those costs down. See, these people request your hospital bills and then go over it with a fine tooth comb and are able to read those hospital bills that might as well be in Ancient Hebrew. I have no idea what those codes mean, but they do, and they can make sure that the amount you are charged, for say, a strep test (um, originally $1,200) is in line with the average cost at most hospitals.
So, a couple of weeks later, in mid-January, I had recieved a total of 3 bills from the hospital for $3,000. He had faxed my medical release I signed to the hospital on a Friday morning. Having received my third bill that weekend, I called Brett to see if I should at least contact the billing department and tell them I wasn't ignoring the bill. He said, that was a good idea, and to follow up about the medical release he had sent that previous Friday. I called the billing department, and they said they had received the release. When I asked them about my $3,000 bill, they said, "Oh you don't owe $3,000, it shows you owe $717, which includes the $500 deductible your insurance requires we charge." I said, "that's funny, because you JUST sent me a $3,000 bill on Saturday." They couldn't tell me why it had dropped so low for no reason, but I know that it is because they received that fax and didn't want to open themselves up to being questioned. I wasn't charged a dime, and Brett was so nice to me!
So, all in all, the actual hospital stay ended up costing the insurance provider $2,175, and I will pay $717, for a grand total of $2,892, off of the original $61,000. And I KNOW if I hadn't gone through the bill advocacy group, they would have tried to negotiate my bill a little lower, but not nearly as low as $717.
What is the moral of this story? Well, there are a few and here they are.
1. Just because a hospital gives you a bill, it does not mean that bill is set in stone. You have rights as a consumer! The bill advocacy group would have charged me 10% of what I would have saved. So, in my case, my original bill was $3,000 out of pocket. If they'd have saved ALL of it, I would have owed them $300. Not bad. It's totally worth it and will save you money.
2. Don't ignore bills. Even if you don't plan to pay right then, you make sure to call them often and stay in communication. All too often, people are afraid and just ignore the problem. Had I ignored this one, I probably would have ended up with a hospital bill in collections for thousands of dollars, that I never could have argued out of.
3. Don't be bullied! You can be nice, but stand your ground and find someone who will help you!
4. Don't go to the hospital for a sinus infection! No, just kidding.
All's well that ends well, right?

The Trick To Making A Really Great Fruit Smoothie

I have a secret. Are you ready? Most people can't handle it.
I highly dislike fruit.
There. I said it. I am not really sure why I don't like it, but I think it's the consistency. I love apples, and sometimes strawberries. I hate any other kinds. I want to love it! I really do. My husband and kids all love all kinds of fruit. It sits in my fridge, and I see them enjoying cantaloupe, pineapple, and oranges and I just think it looks so good, so refreshing, so healthy! But the second I pop it in my mouth, I get grossed out. I love the flavor, it's the consistency.
Fruit is nutritious, though, so I really needed to add it to my diet. A friend at work made fruit smoothies, so decided to give it a try. The secret, she said, was all the fruit needed to be frozen and don't use any ice. No wonder all of my fruit smoothies before had tasted watered down and gritty - the trick to making a really good fruit smoothie is to freeze the fruit and don't add any ice.
I buy lots of fruit for my family, especially stuff that's on sale. Right now, there is so much good fruit in season and on sale. But even though my family eats alot of it, it's hard to eat it all before it goes bad. So, I take half of all the fruit I get, especially bananas and berries, the stuff that goes bad before it's all eaten, and I pop it in a sandwich bag and put it in the freezer. I buy a big bag of Cuties, peel half and pop them in the freezer. Buying frozen fruit in bags is usually kind of pricey, so I will get it when it's on sale. At Aldi, they have a mixed fruit bag of tropical fruit that I buy, because it's always $1.99 and it's a good deal.

This morning, I used half a banana, about 6 slices of orange, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries. And some 2% milk. You can add anything to this, really. I have put in yogurt before, Jason likes peanut butter banana smoothies. I want to add the spinach leaves I've seen people use, but I can't remember to buy it for some reason!

I just add milk until it's thin enough to drink through a straw. Since all of the fruit is frozen, this will stay cold for a few hours. I made a really big cup and drink it all morning. It's a great breakfast treat and keeps me full!

I also add a tablespoon or so of honey I purchased at our local farmer's market. It's supposed to be local honey, which I've heard helps with allergies, but I am not sure if this is considered local. But it tastes good!

And there you have it! A delicious, nutritious start to your day!


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Crazy Hair Night at Church (and trying to get a two year old to smile for the camera)

I LOVE that Avery is old enough and her hair is long enough to participate in things like Crazy Hair Night!
Now, trying to get her to smile on cue is not always the easiest thing. Never has been. Please keep in mind, and to her credit, she is actually saying "cheese" in all of these pictures. But she wouldn't be still.

And finally...
Ok, that will do.
We had six bows in her hair. With 6 ponytails. NO WAY is she old enough to have 6 ponytails!
Just for grins, here are her ponytails one year ago...
Growing so much!

How To Be A Better Hostess - 7 Steps

In a follow up post to my post about me loving being a hostess, I thought I would write down and share some of my tips that I use on how to be a better hostess. Now, mind you, I am no Martha Stewart, but her parties would probably seem a bit stuffy to me anyway, so it's probably a good thing!
1. Your house doesn't have to be perfect for people to like being there.
In every place I've ever lived, people have told me they've felt at home there. My decor wasn't perfect, at times the house or apartment was small, but I've always said that the atmosphere you create matters more than how your house looks. I don't mean not to clean and not to care about how your house looks. But no one is going to notice if your living room isn't perfectly styled and decorated. No one cares if your kitchen table makeover hasn't happened yet. Don't wait for your house to be exactly how you want it to be to have people over! What's awesome is that people can actually start noticing where your house started in the beginning and how your decor style has changed over the years, but they have to be in your house in the first place to see the evolution of your home.
2. Don't be afraid to move things around to accomodate!
My furniture moves constantly. In fact, there are times I've moved things around for a gathering and left it because it's looked better! Your furniture is not glued to your floor. If you have a small living room, don't be afraid to move the furniture up against the wall to create a flow of traffic and space for people to stand and chat.
3. Create an environment for people to to be able to talk to each other comfortably.
Arrange the seating so people can see each other. Put extra chairs in the room so everyone can talk with each other at the same time. You don't want people portioned off - you want a party where everyone can talk to each other, especially people who don't know each other all that well.
4. Make sure as the hostess, you speak with everyone, as much as you can, that made time to come to your home.
If I don't know someone, introduce yourself! I am a people person by nature, so I like getting to know people I don't know. I am surprised, though, when I go to someone's house that I don't know that well, and they spend all of their time talking to people they already know. If I have invited someone, I need to spend time getting to know them!
5. Make your home an "open book" and expect that it will be.
I generally gravitate towards the notion that there aren't areas of my home that won't be peeked in to when people are there. Cabinets, closets, etc, these are still places people could look. So I make sure to expect that and straighten and clean them up. I also have a home that is pretty unique, so people enjoy seeing the bedrooms and other rooms, so I have no problem taking people on tours so people can see where I live.
6. Put away anything that you don't want broken, especially if you have kids coming over!
When kids come to my house, it's just a given that they will pick just about anything up, throw it down, or whatever. At my house, kids are just allowed to roam free and play with whatever, I mean, within reason. Since I am not going to be watching them every minute, I always put up anything that we don't want to lose or break. Even in the kids' room, we tell them to put up anything that they don't want other kids playing with, to avoid having crying fits or things happen later. For Jordan, this might mean something he's made out of legos that is important to him. For Avery, it might mean her princesses and her princess castle. For us, it might mean breakable items that we put away. You don't want to be a nervous wreck when people are at your house and you don't want to make people feel bad the whole time they are there, so just remove the items that make you nervous. Not only that, but put away things that could make a mess on walls or carpet, like crayons, Play-Dough, stamps, or markers.

7. People like food (go figure).

You don't need to have professional-grade cuisine, but you do need to have food, and enough of it! I have several go-by food choices that I can always make at my house, so it's nice to have things you know how to make that feed alot of people. Or, if you are having quite a few, you can always do a
pot-luck style meal, so you don't need to cook and prepare for lots of people. I love inviting people over to my house for meals and I love cooking for people. I am not the best cook, but I try!

I hope these helped! The important thing to remember is that people don't care if you are the best cook or your house is perfect. They just love to be with you! Or, as we Baptists call it, "fellowship" with you! 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why I Can Totally Relate to Lily on HIMYM

This is Lily. I like her.
She is played by actress Alyson Hannigan, whom I also like.
I have been watching "How I Met Your Mother" for years and I think I have seen every episode. The reason I think I love it so much is because the group of people portrayed on that show represent my life and friendship circle during my 20's. They go out, alot, they have fun and crazy times. My life, before Jason and kids, was that way. We went out, all the time. We had crazy stories. We would be spontaneous, we would stay out late, we would do whatever we wanted to do, when we wanted to do it (you know, besides working.) So, I could really relate to that show.
Sometimes, when I watch that show, it makes me remember those times with friends and I get sad that my life isn't like that any more. I know, I know. The life I had before my kids, I am supposed to say, is nothing compared to the life I have now. I am supposed to say the life I had before was empty and meaningless, lonely, and depressing. And in some ways, it was, especially towards the end of my 20s. But it doesn't mean that there aren't times I yearn for that life again, or at least, pieces of it.
Lily's character on this show, during this season, has been a voice to women out there like me. The small percentage of moms who didn't want to be pregnant and become mommies right away. The small percentage who didn't wait until they were later 30s to have kids. The small percentage of women who didn't go through IVF and fertility treatments, suffer through miscarriages and want a baby so badly they would do anything. The small percentage who had crazy lives before they became mothers, who spent their time as adults being crazy and carefree. The small percentage, that even though they became pregnant, weren't 100% sold on the idea of being a mom. The small percentage who still hang on to that small part of them who wish they had a carefree life again.
This season, Lily became a mom. And there have been two episodes where she makes points that I just thought were great. This is a character on TV that moms like me can relate to.

In one episode, Ted has a confession to make but can't make it because it's too terrible to say out loud. Lily, in an effort to help him, says, "I will say my confession first, the thing you aren't supposed to say. Sometimes, I wish I wasn't a mom. Sometimes, I wish I could just pack a bag and run away."

It sounds awful, I know. But that confession, to me, was a huge deal. I don't know that I've ever wanted to run away, because I love my daughter and I couldn't ever do that. But there are times I would like to pack and bag and go on vacation for several days. I feel like things get easier as your children get older, as far as they don't need you to hold them constantly, they are mobile and more independent. But at my house, there isn't one day that I come home to my house when no one is there. I walk through the door, and two dogs, a toddler, and a husband all want my attention and it's tough sometimes. You know those lonely moments I was referring to earlier? Well, I use to hate coming home to an empty house all the time. Now, it's hard because I never get to come home to an empty house. The grass is always greener...

The second episode came on last night. Lily has always loved art, but she is a kindergarden teacher. She was talking to her husband last night about the fact that now, the dreams she had as a kid or young adult have just gone away. Her husband said, "Your days of following your dreams and excitement are in front of you, not behind you!" And she said, "I love you for saying that, but I think there comes a point in every adult's life where you have to admit to yourself that it's no longer true."

I feel like this alot. Like, my dreams and days of excitement are kind of, over for me. My job can no longer be one that doesn't pay a certain amount. My next car will be a mini-van, not some ridiculously expensive, completely impractical car. I won't be taking vacations and traveling the world like I always dreamed. You feel like even though a wonderful part of your life began the moment your child was born, another part died and ceased to exist. And sure, it had to. And I am glad most of the time, but some days, it's all I can do not to do something completely irresponsible and impulsive, like, stay out after 10 pm with friends. Or spend too much money on a pair of completely unnecessary shoes.

Being a parent is hard, and I think everyone has their own reasons why. For me, being a parent is hard because I am constantly trying to find myself and my passions within the everyday routines, which can be very difficult. It's hard because I am always trying to reconcile being in a new stage of life and keeping my personality and interests. Sometimes, I feel like I don't even recognize myself, and I think most of my family and friends would agree. I mean, I won't go into details of the shenanagans I used to pull, not that they are anything to be proud of, but to know me then and know me now, it's almost a 180 in terms of my decision making abilities. And I love that about me now, I love that I know how to make dinner for kids, and decorate a house, and pay off bills (on time!) but that small, irresponsible, crazy person is still in there somewhere and some days, she begs to be heard.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Happy Birthday Pops!

Yesterday was my dad's real birthday, turning the big 3-0! Right Dad?
We met Gigi and Pops for breakfast at Outlaws and took this picture...
Such a great one. Just for kicks, I thought I would show some more pictures of Pops and Avery in the last couple of years!